Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Romeo & Juliet - Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet

I am fairly certain that the last time I had the pleasure of seeing Rudi vanDantzig's stunning R&J was as a fairly small child at some point in the mid 90's. So it was with great joy that I shared the RWB's production with my young daughter during this season, after preparing her with a "coles notes" of the story. The company shows off well in this piece which features stunning group scenes performed with fantastic unison and emphasized by Prokofiev's alternatingly angry and soothing score. And the leads acquitted themselves beautifully; Yosuke Mino's playful Mercutio danced the riddles of the text, while former company members such as Tara Birthwistle and Johnny Xiang playing the parents. These all highlighted the strength of young Elisabeth Lamont who made her debut as Juliet during this production. Lamont's artistry was outstanding - she clearly thought through each moment of the story in beautiful detail, showing us Juliet's joy and heartbreak. This was probably one of the few times I've been emotionally moved by this story in years, having studied it so technically and intensively to creative ends. 

To be on balance, if the RWB are to re-mount this ballet again they may want to consider an update to the set which at times felt a bit worse for wear. It was complemented nicely by stunning lighting design and lavish costumes, however. 

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

About Love & Champagne by Rod Beilfuss - Fancy Bred Theatre

A wonderfully simple premise; an actor in Winnipeg struggling with Chekhov stands in the corner of a gallery talking about being an actor in Winnipeg struggling with Chekhov, and Winnipeg, and dreams. Beilfuss' script is adapted from two Chekhov short stories - you guessed it, About Love, and Champagne, interwoven with a bit of personal history and some fictional personal history to great effect. What ensues in a lovely and heartwarming story of frustration and dreams, and ultimately what draws us to (or keeps us in) this frozen wasteland. 

Beilfuss is a skilled performer, and is clever in his "actor" persona at the start. His work truly shines, however, when Chekhov's text takes over. Beilfuss weaves the bleak winter imagery with such skill that the Russian town easily becomes Winnipeg in our mind's eye, and the story he tells of being in love with a married woman would trick one into thinking it is his own. I would argue he is more natural speaking the words of other than his own, to be fair. 

The script does get a touch repetitive toward the end, and I'd have liked to see a touch more movement in the performance, but that notwithstanding, this is an excellent piece of work. 

Cheers to being stuck in a frozen yet inspiring wasteland. 

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Three Sisters: A Black Opera - by Kristine Nutting - Who Is John Moe Productions (ChekhovFest)

Certainly among the more lively of Chekhovfest's productions, the company of Three Sisters: A Black Opera present an irreverent re-think of one of Chekhov's greatest plays, by prairie playwright Kristine Nutting. The premise is excellent; the 3 sisters are located in Bigger, Saskatchewan, with only their father-turned-dragQueen Mummy-Daddy, a terrifying Credit Union Manager trying to buy Pax (the Irina parallel), and a cute but dopey pig farmer also in love with Pax. Through a sordid tale, we see the sisters' desires and hopes dashed, much like the original. And unfortunately much like the original...nothing much happens. While the clever songs and witty monologues are fun, we never seem to progress beyond the opening moment in terms of style and energy. When a show begins with such a high note, it is tough to progress anywhere, I suppose.

There are certainly things to love in this performance; Dora Carrol is hilarious, Jacqueline Harding's voice is to die for, Jeff Strome's Mummy-Daddy is fantastic, and the accompaniment led by the highly talented Suss adds a beautiful macabre element to the proceedings. Unfortunately the cast is uneven, both vocally and in terms of performance skill, and as a result the piece feels lengthy, even though at only 75 minutes it is definitely among the shorter of the festival. The use of the space (the wonderfully seedy Club St B is a perfect fit for the show) is clever at first, but then stagnates. And depending on your location in the audience, there are some serious sight line issues.

Overall a fun show, definitely a great break from the slow anxiety of most Chekhov fare, but it left me wanting more out of the text and direction.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov - Theatre By The River & Little Echo Theatre

The Cherry Orchard is an ambitious play for any company, with its enormous cast, 4 acts, and famous Chekhovian brooding. Local indie companies Theatre By The River and Little Echo team up for the festival to bring us this promenade piece, directed by Suzie Martin. Situated in a beautifully dingy arts warehouse, each space is artfully designed by Daina Leitold, who also plays Charlotta in the production. The feeling of space being lived in, constantly changing and yet staying the same was a unique feature of the production. And the lengthy play certainly benefits from the promenade nature of the production; where some stagings of Chekhov's full length plays can see audience members flagging, forcing us to get up and move provided a nice sorbet of sorts. 

The performances from the large cast were uneven, and at times felt un-matched in terms of style. That said, some did shine; Tobias Hughes as Petya was every bit the strong-willed and shining idealist, and Kevin Klassen as Lopahkin was a seedy wheeler dealer, almost like a travelling salesman. Melanie White was flippant and scatterbrained as a fabulous Ranyevskaya, whom we see each misfortune coming to, and yet share in her pain at a world changing too quickly around her. Finally, Justin Otto deserves mention for his hilariously snarky and scheming Yasha and Kevin Andersen's Firs was heartbreaking and lovely.  

Although the promenade was beneficial in keeping audience members engaged intellectutally, it did take us out of the world of the play each time once the stage manager began to usher us to the next space. In a play so heavily populated with servants, I would have loved to see this become a moment of audience participation each time, allowing Yasha or Firs (for example) to have the enjoyment of moving the audience along.