THOROUGHLY MODERN MRS: Zik’R Leicester Square: Latin Music Festival

For fifteen years London has hosted an annual Latin music festival, La Linea which ‘til now, I’ve always managed to miss. Celebrating the multi-cultural melting-pot that is our capital city, it promotes new artists, projects and collaborations and the show I finally went to see was itself a joyous celebration of a cross-cultural music, flamenco.

To say ‘flamenco’ is to think of Spain: it’s images of gypsies, of joy and pain, of hard living and a love of life – all bound up in iconic emotive music and proud and sensual dance. It’s easy to forget that the gypsies travelled to Spain from North India across the Middle East and North Africa before making the Mediterranean crossing that brought them to Andalucia. In this journey of generations they picked up musical elements from the lands they passed through, rhythms, melodies, harmonies and vocal styles that mixed together with the folk songs of Southern Spain, became flamenco.

In Zik’R, it’s this journey that is celebrated. Through subtle musical suggestion and instrumentation the roots of flamenco are unearthed and watered. The show which tells the story of one woman’s journey from India to Spain and is itself a metaphor for her spiritual and physical awakening, opens with a haunting harmonium drone and solo ney (vertical flute). Immediately we are placed somewhere in India or perhaps old Arabia. The stage is set in darkness and dry ice for the dramatic entrance of a single woman into this evocative soundworld.

Dressed in a black flamenco dress and in an inversion of a typical flamenco night, she dances a solea, the soulful late night yearning song of the small hours. The beats of her flashing footwork are intertwined with the interlocking rhythms of the tabla and cajon, the whole uplifted by the syncopated clapping of the supporting trio of Spanish flamenco artists and the flourishes of the Spanish guitar. The dance is proud and emphatic and in her performance Karen Ruimy brilliantly conveys both strength and vulnerablilty, the essence of femininity.

The solea beautifully sung by one of the two male vocalists sounds traditional although all the music and songs are composed by the group put together by the producer/musician Youth and Karen Ruimy. The combination of Eastern instruments within the traditional flamenco line-up works beautifully and this band of multi-instrumentalists blends tightly together to support the dancing.  This includes traditional Indian dance as a male dancer reminds us of the dervish and introduces a nuance of Sufism to the evening. A great display of machismo is offered up in the dance of the male flamenco dancer and the highlight of the evening is when the lead male and female flamenco dancers perform a duet.

The action, which is effectively paced so we keenly experience the soulful reflective moments as well as the joyous partying, takes place against a simple and effective backdrop of a graphic sun rising in the sky until the moon appears, under which the fiesta kicks off with a rousing buleria, (up-lifting fast paced flamenco). There’s a lovely female duet where the Spanish backing singer steps out into the limelight and although the lyrics throughout are sung in both Arabic and Spanish, it does not detract from the enjoyment of the evening if you don’t understand either language.

Zik’R is Arabic for ‘remembrance of God’. This evening of flamenco with its subtle, clever twist is a lovely way to be reminded that spirituality and music and dance and song and excitement can – and do – go hand in hand.

You can catch Zik’R at the Edinburgh fringe festival from the 21st. to the 30th. of August. More information here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Mrs.

THOROUGHLY MODERN MISSY: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, ROH

The Royal Opera House cinema’s 2014 year ended with a bang last night with an enchanting performance of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The three-act ballet, which premiered on the Covent Garden stage in 2011, glimmered on more than 3,000 screens across 24 countries and provided a wonderfully festive evening for every audience member watching. This production seems perfectly tailored for the screen; it’s digital success owed something to the newness of the production, as it combined classical dance, digital projections and mixed media puppets in an original, film-friendly portrayal of the wacky Lewis Carroll story that everyone knows and loves. Another feature of the production that was strikingly right for the screen was the stunning film-like score composed by Joby Talbot. In the exclusive-to-screen introduction to the ballet by Darcey Bussell cinemagoers were transported backstage and were privy to interviews with many of the cast and crew; here we heard from Talbot about the process of creating the score and the interwoven themes that represented each individual character. These insights into the production greatly enhanced the immersion into the ballet that the screening already provides.

The production started in a 19th Century Oxford garden party where the audience are introduced to the characters that are soon to feature as figments of Alice’s zany dream. The attention to detail throughout the entire production was truly astonishing and also lent itself even more to that of a film. The many dreamy backdrops, designed by Bob Crowley were all stunningly executed. He captured the essence of the off-kilter story and made it a piece of ever-changing visual art. The second act was a magical medley of episodes based around the different beloved characters of the classic story. From the tap-dancing Mad Hatter to the exotic and sultry caterpillar, the Royal Ballet left their distinguished stamp on this production. The Mad Hatter’s tea party was a delight to watch and you can also see a Zoo Nation version of it streamed live tomorrow (18th of December) and if not, on stage over the next few days. If you figure out the difference between a raven and a writing desk there, do let me know, as I am still none the wiser, even after Steven McRae’s astonishing tap dance showcase. Eric Underwood’s portrayal of the Caterpillar was captivating and the blue bedazzled ballet shoes of the long caterpillar body were a spectacle in themselves.

The three stars of the production would have to be Zenaida Yanowsky as The Queen of Hearts, most especially for her hilarious yet overwhelmingly skillful ‘tart adage’ at the beginning of the third act. Federico Bonelli, the pin up of the ballet world, played a Knave of Hearts who would melt any wicked Queen’s heart. Finally, Sarah Lamb, the belle of the ballet, played such a beautiful Alice that you would be forgiven for thinking you were watching a 1950s screen siren. Her expressive face and lyrical movements brought the sense of innocence needed for a childhood classic like Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

Please give yourself the Christmas present of catching the relay screening this Sunday (21st) in a cinema near you and keep an eye on the Royal Opera House website for more treats to come. I for one am becoming ‘curioser and curioser’ to see what they have in store for us in 2015.

More information here.

Written by Thoroughly Modern Missy, Angelica Bomford.

Swan Lake, Mariinsky Theatre, St Petersburg

Attending a performance of the English National Ballet’s Nutcracker is a Christmas tradition for me, so when I had the chance to experience Swan Lake in St Petersburg I was thrilled.

Russia has a wonderful theatre and dance culture and Tchaikovsky is the most beloved of all Russian composers, proudly upholding the country’s musical heritage. Tchaikovsky’s most familiar compositions today are his ballets, the Nutcracker and Swan Lake, which attract huge audiences, especially over the festive season.

For grand musical performances in St Petersburg head to the Mariinsky Theatre, where the talented company produce a plethora of shows every season. There are now several buildings which house the shows in order to keep up with the audience demand, this also allows the company to show ballet and opera simultaneously. The old Mariinsky Theatre is without doubt more prestigious and glorious in its design, but the modern Mariinsky II is also very striking and luxurious.

When I visited Swan Lake was performed on the Mariinsky II stage and was a triumph. The music soared from the orchestra pit filling the auditorium and the dancers moved across the stage with precision and grace. This ballet premiered in Moscow in 1877 and still captures the hearts of viewers, young and old.

This fantasy ballet is split into four scenes and follows the love story of Prince Siegfried and his Odette, who is cursed under the spell of the evil magician Rothbart, so that she is a swan by day, a human by night. The spell will only break with the power of devoted love. The dancers in this production were focused throughout dancing with an effortless charm. It was particularly moving to watch the Song of the Swans dance which was a flutter of white feathers and tutus. The only thing that distracted was the constant (forbidden) photography from the certain members of the audience, this seems to be a bit of a trend with the Russian audiences.

A visit to a Mariinsky show is essential when visiting St Petersburg, seeing this beautiful production of Swan Lake was a highlight of my trip.

More information on Swan Lake at the Mariinsky Theatre here.