This promises to be the most fun critics round-up yet. Rarely have reviews been so unanimously foul. Being that there was so little to save, the critics left their stars in the drawer, and polished their metaphors with seeming glee.
No amount of special pleading, of aesthetic jiggery-pokery, can excuse Schaufuss's weird libretto as it plays its fatuous game by way of crass mickey-mousing and dismal romping to Tchaikovsky's ardours.
is Clement Crisp's response in The Financial Times to Peter Schaufuss' proposal to link three Tchaikovsky ballets together as dreams within dreams: A Nightmare (Swan Lake), A Sensual Awakening (Sleeping Beauty) and A Happy Dream (Nutcracker).
Pyotr Ilyich must be revolving in his grave,
A Nightmare – Swan Lake
…this is the (unwitting, I suppose) perfect description of the first staging in a week's season by the Schaufuss Ballet at the Coliseum.
said Crisp. Debra Craine in The Times called it,
Inept, illogical, incomprehensible and idiotic, it will either leave you flummoxed or have you laughing out loud.
Neil Norman for The Express had doubt's about Schaufuss' abilities.
His choreographic expertise fails to measure up to his vaulting ambition.
His opinion was echoed by The Stage‘s Sarah Frater.
…he lacks the maturity and choreographic ingenuity to give new form to these immense art works.
An example of the choreography was shared by Graham Watts for LondonDance.com:
The white swan pas de deux was danced – for the most part – horizontally on the floor as if this was a synchronised swimming duet being practiced on dry land.
Even the set and costumes left a lot to be desired. Here's what Mark Manahan in The Telegraph has to say:
The “set” – a huge, semi-reflective panel that lines the back of a stage – muddles the action and even looks in need of a good polish. The lighting is coarse, and, while the swans' Lycra costumes are pure mid-Eightes ice-dance, the two jesters' somehow fuse Donnie Darko's satanic rabbit and Pulp Fiction's put-upon gimp.
A view shared by Watts,
The fifteen androgynous swans looked like bald, plucked chickens retaining just a breastplate of feathers; the female members of the court in Act 1 seemed like downmarket showgirls in the nude revue bar of a backwoods market town, their costumes somehow managing to be both salacious and drab at the same time.
Ouch! But there must had been at least one redeeming feature. Judith Mackrell for The Guardian said that there was.
Its only redeeming feature is Alban Lendorf's Siegfried (who almost single-handedly wins this production a second star). Despite being bundled into a boiled-wool bomber jacket that makes him look both girly and bulky, Lendorf dances heroically, the spring and finesse of his Danish-trained jump combined with juicily expressive body work.
Thank goodness. Though this was not true of “the two temperature-lowering danseuses who play Odette and Odile” according to Crisp.
Even the recorded music was awful. Dougill said they were
…recordings of appalling sound quality — the strings sounding like a sawmill.
Lyndsey Winship in the Evening Standard wrily suggested that,
The bit where the Black Swan indulges the prince in some oral sex is a highlight, though.
A Sensual Awakening (Sleeping Beauty) and A Happy Dream (Nutcracker)
The critics fell away dramatically after the ‘nightmare'. Dougill braved the Sleeping Beauty.
Prevailing impressions of The Sleeping Beauty are a clutter of overcomplexities and hectic pace, the dancing not always successfully crammed into the music.
Laura Thompson in The Telegraph gives us an idea of Schaufuss' approach.
Sleeping Beauty has been given a madly inappropriate sexual edge: the opening scene enacts for us the actual moment of Aurora's conception, then sees her drop to the ground, newborn, as her mother performs a deep plié in second position.
Watts, yearning of a family tree in the programme notes, points out some logical complexities:
The prince in both ballets is also played by the same dancer (Alban Lendorf) – wearing differently coloured versions of the same cropped jacket – and yet both princes retain their traditional name (Siegfried in Swan Lake and Florimund in Sleeping Beauty) suggesting that they alone retain separate identities. Yet, if the Queen is the same character in both ballets then the prince is her son in one and wooing her daughter in the other. That would be weird, even for a Schaufuss ballet.
As these ballets also marked the London return of a great dancer, Thompson is bemused by his involvement:
Standing inexplicably onstage in the role of the King, is the former Royal Ballet principal Irek Mukhamedov: a great artist in the midst of a shambles.
Craine is in agreement.
If I could award half a star it would go to Irek Mukhamedov who has tremendous presence as Rothbart, though I'm not sure what he is meant to be doing in this pointless exercise.
So to sum up, like the enticing pull-quotes on West End ads, the critics reaction to the Schaufuss trilogy is :
* “Hell gaped.” – The Financial Times
* “One of the worst Tchaikovsky stagings I've ever seen.” – The Times
“Unspeakable” – The Express
* “Frightful.” – The Telegraph
“I grappled with responses of irritation and disbelief.” – The Sunday Times
“Clunky choreography, patchy narrative, dull energy and so-so performances.” – Evening Standard
** “One of the most ill-conceived productions I've seen.” – The Guardian
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.