dance theatre

Review: Pinocchio ★★★★ - Israeli-born choreographer Jasmin Vardimon and her company create breath-taking stage pictures to enchant

If you want to introduce your child to the magic of live theatre, then the captivating combination of physical dance theatre and brilliantly imaginative staging with which Yasmin Vardimon and her company weave the story of Pinocchio should leave any theatregoer, new or experienced, eager for more.

Vardimon has an extraordinary imagination and with her collaborators, set designer and dramaturg Guy Bar-Amotz and lighting designer Chahine Yavroyan, she finds a fresh way of conjuring each scene in Collodi’s story of the wooden puppet boy who yearns to be a real boy. Perhaps the most distinctive signature of her style is the stunning and seamless way her eight performers work together to use their bodies – or often just one body part each – to create a whole.

Working together with precise discipline, three performers open the show by assembling the disturbing, dark, squat figure of the narrator (perhaps the Cricket) from their gloved hands. Meanwhile, within a brightly-lit conical tent, shadow-play creates the illusion of puppet-maker Gepetto fashioning the life-size puppet from his magical piece of wood. The Blue Fairy materialises and floats effortlessly upwards as the tent morphs into her gown, all blue light.

In Geppetto’s workshop all eight dancers revolve around as figures in a clockwork musical box, each face a smiling mask, each body moving as precisely as clockwork as they rise in turn to the centre of their mechanical frieze, like paper cut-out dolls. Even the performers’ feet create ‘puppets’ and many hands make light work of Pinocchio’s nose.

The episodic nature of Pinocchio’s journey lends itself perfectly to this problem-solving teamwork. But of course the heart (beating rather than wooden) of the story is Pinocchio himself. Maria Doulgeri brings extraordinary physicality to the role, limbs revolving stiffly at first as if her joints are indeed awkwardly jointed with pins; flailing wildly and unnaturally to the scornful amusement of the nasty children in a playground who revel in excluding the little outsider; and gradually softening as he achieves empathy and selflessness – and so humanity.

The shape-shifting cast is uniformly excellent, equally at home as animals, puppet or humans, on the ground or in the air – or suspended on puppet strings. Scheming cat and fox are present and correct and banish any memories you may have of that Disney film.

The evocative music ranges from Shostakovitch to Beyoncé via accordion music from the Faroe Islands and the vocalising sighs and gasps from the cast add to the inclusive atmosphere. If some scenes are a tad long, the whole, at 90 minutes is just right. And it’s testimony to the show that despite there being no interval its young audience was spellbound throughout.

By Judi Herman

Pinocchio runs Friday 3 & Saturday 4 November. 7.30pm, 2pm (Sat only). £13, £8.50. Grand Theatre, Blackpool, FY1 1HT.

Review: Grand Finale ★★★★★ – Apocalyptic vision in Shechter's triumphant total dance theatre

If that title sounds ominous, Shechter told me in interview: “I wanted to capture a sense of our time…that out-of-control feeling that things are coming to an end. And how can this have a happy ending?” * Plus, in a programme note on what he does – or does not – expect of his audience: “It’s about what is happening to them in their head, how they feel, [not about getting] it right in some way.”

These ideas coincide with news bulletins of refugees fleeing fresh violence and natural disaster to colour my response to what I’m seeing – figures in a stark, imagined landscape fleeing, falling, supporting each other’s bodies, dead or alive – often hardly noticing when they drop their burdens. Sometimes the flight is collective, sometimes one or two isolated figures move and pause in the shifting tableaux.

Shechter’s own original percussive soundtrack, with Yaron Engler, combines with Tom Visser’s harsh white lighting and the shadows it throws to add to the atmosphere of ominous apocalypse as screens like monoliths or tablets hide and reveal the dancers who also move them swiftly around the stage. These and the dancers’ fluid costumes are designed by Tom Scutt. It’s the first time Shechter has worked with a designer and it works triumphantly for this is total dance theatre.

The dancers also share the stage with a string sextet, the use of live music making another entirely successful first for Shechter. At first they are placed at one side, later they take centre-stage as the stark lighting gives way to something more golden, celebratory; but always they are part of the stage picture, even the choreography and design, as well as the sound.

That they are in formal evening attire is significant as they play ‘found’ music, notably Franz Lehar’s 'Merry Widow' waltz, 'Love Unspoken' (could that title be significant too?), as well as chamber music by Tchaikovsky and a Russian tune from Jewish composer Vladimir Zaldwich.

Although there’s room for lightness of touch and levity too, it’s perhaps that feel of early 20th-century Mittel Europa, between the wars, which brings to my mind the apocalyptic poetry of TS Eliot and WB Yeats. ‘Things fall part, the centre cannot hold’ writes Yeats in The Second Coming, though of course the dancers’ centres of gravity can hold – they are characteristically centred and grounded, unless they are ‘playing dead’.

Sometimes they recall the opening of Eliot's The Hollow Men: ‘We are the stuffed men / Leaning together / Headpiece filled with straw’. The poem closes with the famous lines ‘This is the way the world ends / Not with a bang but a whimper’. Shechter’s triumphant apocalyptic vision ends rather with a bang – and a standing ovation.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Rahi Rezvani

Grand Finale runs until Saturday 16 September. 7.30pm. £12-£32. Sadler's Wells Theatre, EC1R 4TN. 020 7863 8000.

Then tours overseas: 1 – 4 November Danse Montréal; 9 – 11 November BAM, New York; 24 - 26 November Dansens, Hus, Oslo; 12 December Scène Nationale d’Albi

More dates to be announced

*see Jewish Renaissance Magazine July 2017 issue page 28

Review: Fagin’s Twist ★★★★ - The exhilarating dance drama gives a thought-provoking twist on a familiar tale

8-fagins-twist-photo-by-rachel-cherry You'll recognise the battered toppers, silk handkerchiefs and the pocket watch, but will you recognise the characters you thought you knew and loved (or hated)? Young orphan Fagin, resourceful and charismatic, escapes the workhouse with his best mate Bill Sykes to build an underground empire, a refuge for the likes of Sykes's girl Nancy and the Artful Dodger. Then they stumble upon young Oliver Twist.…

Fagin’s Twist is a breathtaking synthesis of dance, words, music and design, which succeeds brilliantly in finding – or fashioning – the fully-rounded humanity of Dickens’ characters we think we know so well already from the page, stage and screen.

Writer Maxwell Golden has dared to add his gloss to Dickens to tell those back stories – for Bill Sykes, Nancy, the Artful Dodger and of course Fagin himself. Aaron Nuttall’s Dodger narrates as niftily as he moves, so that Golden lives up to his name – his script sounding direct, fresh and as muscular as the dance itself.

Exploring the dark side of London in Dickens’ time and indeed right now, Tony Adigun’s restless, shape-shifting choreography is complemented by the constant morphing of Yann Seabra’s angular wooden slats lit with extraordinary versatility by Jackie Shemesh, to evoke alleys and streets and the sinister interiors of workhouse and thieves’ den.


A dark and thrilling eclectic score, both found and original, ranges from strings, piano and harp to music to blast you into submission, but even when it’s ‘in yer ears’ it earns its place there, thanks to sound designers Brian Hargreaves and Seymour Milton.

The performers crown this glorious synthesis by tackling both the dance and drama with energy and brio. Ensemble and soloists are equally at home in the breathlessly fast-moving routines and changing tableaux (sleight of hand looks like it comes naturally to this gang), as well as the escape over London's sinister roofscape; and the more measured duets and solos that explore the burgeoning relationship between Lisa Hood’s passionate Nancy and Dani Harris-Walters’ virile Bill. Joshua James Smith is an intriguingly complicated Fagin, a damaged youth using the cards fate deals him to find his golden opportunity in the gang leader’s swinging pocket watch. He’s a fine lithe figure in his swirling coat with fur tippet, cleverly evocative of Victoriana and yet cutting a more timeless dash like all Seabra’s costumes. Plus there’s Jemima Brown’s little orphan Oliver, working hard on tugging at Nancy’s heartstrings with his efforts to find his niche ...

There’s also an intriguing exhibition in the theatre bar of George Cruikshank’s illustrations for Oliver Twist, complete with correspondence from Dickens. Add some sly quotations from Lionel Bart’s Oliver in Golden's script and it all makes for an unexpected twist on Dickens.

By Judi Herman

Photos by Rachel Cherry

Fagin's Twist runs until Saturday 15 October, 8pm & 2pm, £18, £12 concs, at The Place, 17 Duke's Rd, WC1H 9PY; 020 7121 1100.

Then on tour at the following places:

Monday 17 October, 8pm, £10, at Gloucester Guildhall, GL1 1NS; 01452 503050.

Thursday 20 & Friday 21 October, 7.45pm, £12, at Birmingham Hippodrome, B5 4TB; 0844 338 5010.

Tuesday 25 October, 7.30pm, £15, £10 concs, at Nottingham Lakeside, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD; 0115 846 7777.

Friday 28 October, 7.30pm, £14, £11 concs, at Barbican Plymouth, PL1 2NJ; 01752 267131.


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