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Friday 19th August, 2005

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Castro’s exquisite export

Sadler’s Wells - By SAM JONES

IT is sweet and fitting that Cuban ballet should produce such international stars as current sensation Carlos Acosta.
Not only does it have the unstinting support of its head of state but it has the extraordinary Alicia Alonso at its helm.
This doyenne of her country’s classical ballet tradition danced with Markova and was shown her steps by such legends of the artform as Fokine, Massine and Balanchine. It is hardly believable that she achieved all this having gone blind during her second decade.
The Cuban National Ballet is her baby and even aged 83 she is its driving creative force. Somehow she managed to fuse an innate sense of the rhythm and musicality of the Caribbean with the purest of ballet’s practice to create something quite unique.
The Cuban ballet dancer seems to have it all – strength, agility, style, personality, grace, and, in many ways above all, a real grasp of tempo. Every one of the soloists could build an international career. The men, in particular, could be absolute dynamite.
The evening was a showcase of short excerpts from seven of the company’s classical repertoire. From their magnum opus, Giselle, to the Sinfonia de Gottschalk’s Creole Party, with Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Don Quixote along the way, among others. The night began with Giselle and one can see why the company’s rendition of it is an audience pleaser.
Hayna Gutierrez and Victor Gili danced the anguished second act pas de deux like flowing water, she floating across the stage effortlessly in his arms. The women have such expressive upper bodies and Gutierrez is a masterclass in port de bras. The company’s technical genius is Sadaise Arencibia.
As Princess Aurora in Sleeping Beauty and Odette in Swan Lake she demonstrates that there is little she cannot do.
Partnering Michelangel Blanco, the Beauty pas de deux is a rather taut pairing, maybe due to first night nerves, for by the time they come on again in Swan Lake it is much more relaxed and languid.
By then, too, the remaining first half couple have distinguished themselves; Anette Delgado and Romel Frometa in the Nutcracker. Delgado is a charming dancer, with silent, playful pas de chats and a sparkling smile. Viengsay Valdes is another technician, completely at home in Don Quixote.
With partner Joel Carreno, who takes the evening’s prize for the most exciting jetes (and that is saying something for these athletic men who seem almost able to leap off the stage) she is a sassy Kitri, drawing spontaneous applause for some of her more daring feats of balance.
The corps de ballet was occasionally rather lacklustre in, for example, Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker. But in Swan Lake the powerfully expressive arms come into the own, and the corps is a breathtaking addition to the action. A wonderful evening.

Until August 20
0870 737 7737

Blair’s Nazi roots exposed with wit

Etcetera - By TOM FOOT

WE have all been misled. All those hours studying World War II at secondary school and the teachers had it wrong.
Hitler was not moved to world conquest by evil, greed or envy, but because his agent did not appreciate his pop songs.
This is not a world exclusive, I must report, but a satire on Tony Blair, whose university rock band – The Ugly Rumours – never made it big.
Hitler and Blair strike up a dreamy relationship in this outlandish production from Theatre de C**t.
The actors – aged between 18 and 22 – perform 20 scenes from everyday life, although this company’s take on everyday life may be a little different to your own.
Londoners walk around with Swastikas and Britain’s workers are turning into another bunch of unthinking henchmen.
Blair being “at one” with Hitler is hard to swallow, and the zealous Nazi salutes from Conrad Murray will make you uncomfortable.
There was a point when I thought this might rival The Man Behind the Iron Mask debacle for worst musical of the century. But punctuating Theatre de C**t’s militant script are flashes of rare skill worth the entrance fee alone.
In one scene, a young private school boy gets happy-slapped by kids in the street. This savage beating is choreographed superbly – perhaps a little too knowingly.
The actors work together in slow motion, as if you were watching on a mobile phone, to create one of the best scenes I have seen at the fringe all year.
Last week one local paper reported residents’ disbelief that the Etcetera theatre would stoop so low as to hire Theatre de C**t. “I’m tired of hearing five-year-old children calling each other swear words,” mused one resident, “if the theatre company need to resort to these tactics the show probably isn’t worth seeing.”
In fact, if that person – so alarmed by society’s slide into oblivion – would see the play they would learn a bit about why they hear five-year-olds swearing.
As for the name of the theatre company – what’s all the fuss about? Shakespeare used literally hundreds of puns on the word and no one bats an eyelid.

Until August 20
020 7482 4857

Puppets give teenage tale extra dimension

Peacock Theatre

VIOLET, 13, is lonely, trapped in a family she doesn’t understand and a body she doesn’t like.
Her best friend is brother Will but he often turns out to be her worst enemy. Violet retreats into a fantasy world in which the magical stories of her favourite author Caspar Dream form a comforting backdrop.
Then new girl at school, boy-magnet and famous actor’s daughter Jasmine, actually wants to be her friend. So is this a wish come true? Not quite, as this charming adaptation of Jacqueline Wilson’s best selling novel of the same name demonstrates, but it does help create an unexpected fairy-tale ending.
Powerful performances, particularly from Sarah O’Leary as the wistful Violet, and James Camilleri as her wayward brother, propel the story neatly forward, while director Vicky Ireland uses puppetry to illustrate Violet’s attempts to balance her make believe world with ever encroaching reality.
These beautifully made rod and hand puppets illustrate characters and situations as the action on stage takes place independently. When Violet’s dad becomes angry, a fairy ogre floats into view, all mouth and belly, just like him. The Enchantress fairy represents Jasmine, lovely but, like Violet, all alone. Unfortunately, you have to be fairly close to the stage to be able to appreciate the loving and intricate detail that puppet maker Lee Threadgold has put into them. Despite the mystical manoeuvres, Midnight never descends into mawkishness.
In true Wilson style, Ireland displays a firm grip on reality as Violet grapples with her growing pains, and difficult issues like adoption and cot death are thrown into the heady mix. Original music by Steven Marwick, sadly not live, provides the perfect accompaniment to this tale of a girl’s coming of age.

Until August 28
020 7863 8222

Flawless performance wins the day for nostalgia trip


IT’S hard to believe that this is the stuff that had ’em rolling in the aisles more than a century ago.
In today’s entertainment universe of wall-to-wall gangsta rap and visceral shoot-em-up screen violence, this kind of soirée might look like a trip too far down Memory Lane.
Adopting an archly intimate conversational style, Sheila Steafel delivers a potpourri of “plums” long past their sell-by date, which could have added up to a hill of nostalgia beans, smothered in treacly coy frivolity. But not with a master of the performance art.
There wasn’t even any need to shoot mystery pianist Paul Smith – his timing was as uncanny as Steafel’s technique was flawless.
Just as you believe there is a pianist expertly tickling the ivories behind the screen, so you forget Steafel the consummate trouper, and happily enter the world of an late Victorian ma’am with an engagingly risqué repertoire of song and verse.
For her new one-woman show the comedienne has dug up an eclectic melange of late Victorian-early Edwardian ditties, poems and monologues from the vaults of the British Library to re-create the popular theatrical obsessions of a bygone age. Arrestingly clad in a cream lace full-length ensemble – the ultimate in pukka Victorian chic – she welcomes you into her period drawing-room set complete with screen, sofa and potted plant, delighted that you’d dropped in.
Pacing smoothly to and fro, Staefel then skips sassily in and out of characters reminiscent of Alfred P Doolittle, Little Dorrit and the Chimney Sweeper. And her invitation to sing-along and join in – willingly accepted – adds to the magic of the nostalgic moment.
But there’s a hidden edge in the play list. From The News Boy’s Debt and When Is My Birthday, Daddy? to There’ll Be No Wedding Here Tonight, maudlin titles mask life’s darker realities – lost love, drunkenness, drugs, death and prostitution.
Music Hall, originally evolved from the song and supper rooms of the 1850s, was shunned by polite society for its association with the beer halls and gin clubs of the working classes.
But it offered brief moments of comic release from the travails of mass urbanisation during the hey-day of Britain’s industrial revolution.
So – pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.

Until August 28
020 7794 0022

All content © New Journal Enterprises, 2005