Friday, 17 October 2014

Melissa Hamilton in "Manon"; wow...

Isn't a "Manon" a kind of chocolate?  Something with praline and whipped cream enrobed in fine belgian choc?  Delicious.

"Manon" the story is not exactly delicious; it's bittersweet even at its happiest moments, and deeply tragic by the end.  At the moment the Royal Ballet are doing MacMillan's magnificent version and I've been twice, sad balletomane that I am.

I went with the DipGeek, a planned outing; we saw Laura Morera and Nehemiah Kish, innocent and unhappy as the lovers, and Riccardo Cervera as an insouciant Lescaut.  But then on Monday I managed to get a returned ticket, to see one of my current dance idols, Melissa Hamilton, making her debut in the lead.

So if I am a sad balletomane? - so what.  This was something not to be missed.  And boy, do we have a Manon here!  I know I'm one of her fangirls, but Ms Hamilton simply seized the part with both hands and made it her own.  I was completely blown away.

She was going absolutely flat-out, technically - not a foot wrong, not a risk fudged - while dramatically, emotionally, this was as subtle and truthful an interpretation as I've ever seen.  Her performance was alive with flickering feelings, right to her fingertips.  She brought out little nuances, like the way the innocent girl, arriving in Paris in a pell-mell hurtle of excitement, cannot resist trying to show off her pretty new frock to her brother - only to realise within minutes that next to the glittery finery of the local whores she looks provincial and frumpy.  And bang! she goes, like the kid she is, straight from unthinking happiness to frustrated dissatisfaction.

This was a very young Manon, in love but also very much swept up with being in love, and visibly steeling herself to the touch of Monsieur GM with his creepy fetishes and bullying dominance.  Right through Act One there was a vividly real sense of someone trying to keep abreast of things, trying to make decisions on the spur of the moment, trying to stay ahead without really knowing what she's doing.  Circumstances keep changing, complications keep arriving, and she is too un-worldy-wise to realise she cannot have it all, despite the deepening mess, until it is horribly, painfully too late.  By the end we were going full-on for raw danger; the famous flips and plunging lifts of the last pas de deux were taken right to the line, as they need to be, to give the last scene the utter desperation it needs.  Seriously; it needs to be scary, that scene, and it was.  I haven't seen a Manon come that close to dashing her brains out on the stage for a while...

She had an excellent Lescaut in Bennet Gartside, who I didn't know would be dancing this role until I opened my cast sheet; that was a nice surprise to arrive to.  He's matured into a terrific actor and still has the dancing chops to pull off a superbly naturalistic, tumbling drunk scene, making all those horrendous off-balance leaps look easy - and phenomenally real.  If anyone in the company is going to step into Gary Avis' shoes in time, Mr Gartside might be the one to do it.

Mr Avis was excelling himself as usual (if that isn't a contradiction in terms) as an utterly repellent Monsieur GM.  I wouldn't ever have expected to say this as a compliment, but he was rape culture personified.  Through great chunks of the brothel scene my eyes kept straying from the merrymaking of the whores and their clients, to watch the interactions between him and Manon.  This was a real relationship, subtle and full of tension, a constantly-shifting unadmitted power struggle going on.  One got a very clear sense of what has happened to Manon in the last few weeks, and a real premonition of what might have happened in the succeeding months, if she hadn't taken another spur-of-the-moment gamble and tried to have it all.

I would have liked to see Miss Hamilton paired with a more emotionally responsive Des Grieux.  Matthew Golding certainly seems to be a strong, safe partner (& my god, you need one with some of the lifts in "Manon") but his acting was a bit one-dimensional for my tastes.  Mr Kish, a couple of weeks before, brought a low-key sincerity and an air of innocent, well-intentioned sweetness to this foolish young man; one watched his characterisation and thought "By gum, Des Grieux is an idiot" but one also felt for him desperately.  I didn't really feel for Mr Golding, and that's a pity. 

But by and large it was a tremendous performance.  As usual all the bit parts were beautifully done.  As usual Gary Avis acted his socks off.  And as usual Miss Hamilton left me stunned, by her wonderful dancing and her heartfelt dramatic instincts. 

The rest of my week has been busy at work and I am tending to flop at home.  I'm still very tired.  I've just been for a drink after work with the Press Office team, followed by pizza and salad 'cos it's Friday.  My internet connection at home seems to be okay tonight, after being distinctly off-colour lately.  And I have kitten-sitting duties this weekend.  So things aren't too bad at all, all things considered.  And now I am going to bed.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

A day out, and enjoying the little things

Yesterday, for a change, instead of doing my grocery shopping, cleaning, running the washing machine, etc, as per any normal Saturday, I decided to take myself off for a day out.

That makes it sound rather momentous, which I suppose it isn't really.  But in an odd way it felt as though it was.  Life is short and sometimes hard, and at the moment there seem to be so many troubles and disasters in the world outside my own little life, most of which I am powerless to do anything about.  On Friday one of my colleagues quoted "Firefly" at me, and the knowledge that I'm working with a fellow-Browncoat made me grin for about the next hour.  Little moments like that can uplift a day, and sometimes, at times like these, one can simply miss them as they pass by.  I don't think it is hiding one's head in the sand, to want to see some good amid the gloom.  The pleasure those simple few words gave me outweighed quite a few rough moments during the working day, and it reminded me how seldom one indulges oneself to stop and look at the good things as they flash by.  I want to find things to give me hope and moments of pleasure, to counteract the knowledge of so much violence and cruelty, so much sickness and sadness.  To have those tiny flickers of satori, even if of the most simple and minor nature.  To say "Give me some happiness, give me some tiny epiphanies, as I slog through this week, this month, this year.  Let my life be about the journey, not the goal; let the journey not be devoid of good things, and let me have the time and the energy to notice them."

So I didn't do any of my duties, I was self-indulgent, and I enjoyed the simple things.  I had a lie-in with a book, and proper coffee and hot buttered toast for breakfast, and then a leisurely shower with some new smellies from Lush; and I went to the V&A.

Part of the Tube was out of action, so I took the bus to Hammersmith.  I sat on the top deck and watched autumn leaves go by, and people on the Chiswick High Road doing their shopping or having coffee out.  It had poured first thing, but by late morning it was bright and sunny, and all the cafes and restaurants seemed to be doing a roaring trade.  At Hammersmith I changed onto the Piccadilly Line and went through to South Ken, and went and had an early lunch at the Kensington Creperie.  My neighbours at the next table were French, and terribly Gallic with it, noisy and emphatic and talking with their hands, which certainly added to the ambience.  I had a savoury crepe with sundried tomatoes and olives and pesto and cheese, a glass of cold lager, and then (because I am a pig) a second crepe filled with cherry jam and dark chocolate chips.  At the other neighbour table were a group of students all eating dessert crepes and huge ice-creams, all of which they religiously photographed and tweeted before eating.  They weren't as talkative as the French group, but at one point I did hear one of them say "So are we going shopping or are we going to meet Lee at the Natural History Museum and help him pick up girls?"  The general consensus seemed to be for shopping.  I wondered why Lee needed help picking up girls in the NHM?  And is the NHM a pick-up shop? - have I been missing a trick?  I wonder which museum is the pick-up shop for forty-somethings?   

I walked up the road belching in a most unfeminine manner, and had an afternoon of Constable paintings, Indian sculptures and wonderful fashion.  No pick-ups in the V&A, just lots of food for the mind and the eyes.  The current Constable show has a lot of his little oil sketches, which are marvellous, and a lot of instances of a preparatory sketch, an oil sketch, a full-size study and a final painting, all shown side-by-side; fascinating.  There are also a lot of his copies from other artists, including a drawing he did when he was about 18 which is endearingly bad.  Even Jove nods, and even John Constable had to start somewhere.

I wandered after that through the big galleries of historic Indian arts and crafts and scultpures, and finished up in the fashion section.  It was too late by then to go round the special display of wedding dresses through the ages, so I just went on mooching.  There's something very satisfying about seeing perfect cutting and elegant styling in something like a suit or a coat; and of course the party dresses and cocktail outfits and so on are always gorgeous.  At the moment one of the 1940s cases has two Utility suits, one for a lady and one for a gentleman; it's salutary to realise how elegant, to modern eyes, this supposedly unflattering clothing seems.  I would have had a deal of trouble, in times of rationing, being a distinctly larger lady these days; just to make a neat knee-length Utility skirt for a big pair of hips like mine would need an extra half-yard compared to a "standard" size, and that would have meant saving up coupons a bit longer.  But when one tends to dress, as I do, like a parrot, with eclectic colours and patterns and styles thrown-on anyhow, it's fascinating to study the careful colour choices, precision of cutting, and clarity of line and silhouette of earlier fashions; and maybe I can learn something from them, too.

Then home, with very tired feet.  My new shoes (thank you, Hotter!) are wonderfully comfortable, but even in the best footgear Museum-foot strikes eventually.  So I finished off my indulgent day by eating a big bowl of noodles and an apple, writing up my diary, watching a little idle tv and having an early night.  I then slept for over ten hours.

It's no good pretending otherwise; I am tired.  This has been a stressful, draining year for me.  Over the next few months at work I need to get my head round the changes in my role, and in my spare time I need to focus on getting some rest, eating healthily, and doing things that make me feel happy rather than duties that make me feel harrassed and strapped for time.  And carry on with my writing, of course.