Pursued by a Bear »

  • Reviews: Ó Lionáird, Crash Ensemble – Imma, Dublin

    November 17, 2008 @ 10:47 am | by Fiona McCann

    Gavin Bryars — Anáil Dé.

    Sean-nós singer Iarla Ó Lionáird was the supporting act at the first appearance of the Gavin Bryars Ensemble in Ireland in 2004. That encounter sowed the seeds of Bryars’s new Anáil Dé (The Breath of God), settings of Irish spiritual texts for voice and an ensemble made up of two violas, cello, electric guitar and double bass. The new work was premiered at Imma on Friday by Ó Lionáird with members of the Crash Ensemble and the composer himself on double bass. (more…)

  • Reviews: TV on the Radio – Tripod, Dublin

    @ 10:46 am | by Fiona McCann

    They may have chosen to take the “difficult second album” phenomenon literally with 2006′s occasionally brilliant but largely frustrating Return to Cookie Mountain, but this year Brooklyn’s blisteringly experimental outfit TV on the Radio finally delivered on their unbearable promise with Dear Science, the significantly less-difficult third album, which seduces as much as it challenges.

    Headlining Heineken Green Synergy at a jam-packed Tripod, the art rockers have lost some of their thorns, but none of their edge.

    A song is still as likely to borrow from jazz as punk, the beat equally prone to swing or stutter, while instrumentalist David Sitek will reliably attach wind chimes to his guitar or attack a wet snare drum with what appear to be over-sized cinnamon sticks. No matter how layered the music, there’s always room for another idea. The difference now, though, is the mellow maturity that pulls off those combinations without agitation.

    Tunde Adepimbe’s lyrics retain a trace of the student radical, obliquely howling down capitalism and global warfare, but his voice has softened from shrieks and stabs into what you might call actual singing. Skittering across the stage as though moved by the vibrations alone, he bats the air during the elegant chaos of Young Liars , part preacher, part demonic possession.

    A judicious set even finds older songs subtly transformed. The Wrong Way , once a menacing concoction of jazz squawks and industrial throbs, is here accessible and declamatory, like a deconsecrated gospel hymn.

    Of the new material, Golden Age arrives with the unabashed urgency of disco, Shout Me Out struts with soulful purpose and Dancing Choose simply lets loose. It’s an ebullient display, but mercifully they can still be a little gauche. Banter is minimal, the surging Wolf Like Me is thrown out way too early, and in between the ferocious growl of DLZ , or sweet reverb of Love Dog , they somehow neglect to play Halfway Home – easily one of the best tunes of 2008. That’s TV on the Radio all over though; they are no longer a hard band to love, but they won’t make it too easy. – Peter Crawley

  • Reviews: Opera Ireland’s Madama Butterlfy – Gaiety Dublin

    @ 10:45 am | by Fiona McCann

    Opera Ireland’s artistic director Dieter Kaegi has departed from his company’s routine for the new Madama Butterfly which opened at the Gaiety Theatre on Saturday.

    Under Kaegi, Opera Ireland has shown a penchant for taking unusual slants on the best-known works in the repertoire.

    But this time around he has imported a production from the Teatro del Giglio in Lucca in which director Eike Gramss and designers Christoph Wagenknecht (sets) and Catherine Voeffray (costumes) give us a traditional Japanese house, the kind of dress that Puccini would have recognised in the opera, and a no-nonsense presentation that doesn’t fiddle with the work itself.

    The opening-night audience loved it, and many of those present rose to their feet in appreciation.

    Puccini is a composer who knew how to tug the heartstrings, and this new Butterfly did nothing to impede him. It was an unusually even evening, not just in terms of casting, but also in the way the moments of what you might call big sing were integrated into the whole.

    The fact that the standout arias did not stand out as they often do was by no means to the work’s disadvantage.

    Quite the contrary, in fact.

    Korean soprano Yunah Lee’s moments of girlish petulance as Cio-Cio San, and her extended inability to read the reality of her situation were all the more plausible for not being overshadowed.

    The sharpness of Belgian baritone Marcel Vanaud had a businesslike efficiency, neither sympathetic nor insensitive, and US tenor Keith Olsen’s Pinkerton was, well, as selfish as the role demands.

    Chinese contralto Qiu Ling Zhang brought an unusual richness of timbre to the always compassionate presence of Butterfly’s maid, Suzuki.

    Italian conductor Bruno Dal Bon encouraged colour and passion in the playing of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, and at the same time secured mostly apt balances between stage and pit. In short, this is just the kind of production to win new friends for Opera Ireland. – MICHAEL DERVAN

  • Reviews: Lloyd Webber, Chowhan – NCH, Dublin

    November 14, 2008 @ 3:46 pm | by Fiona McCann

    Debussy – Sonata in D minor. Britten – Sonata in C.William Lloyd Webber – In the Half Light. Nocturne.

    Brahms – Sonata in E minor, Op 38.

    This recital by English cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, presented at the National Concert Hall by the Music Network, was a frustrating experience.

    Lloyd Webber plays as if the performer is always altogether more important in the scheme of things than the composer. It’s a high-risk proposition that can be extremely effective when it comes off. Sadly, this time it didn’t.

    Lloyd Webber’s approach to the three major sonatas he offered was patchy at best, and he made the music his own in ways that seemed to take it away from the composers.

    The rashness of his approach to the sonata by Debussy resulted in a severe loss of rhythmic stability. The sonatas by Britten and Brahms sounded over-stressed and effortful, with little sense of a solidly co-ordinated partnership with pianist Pam Chowhan, whose intentions generally seemed to communicate themselves more clearly than Lloyd Webber’s.

    The interplay at the opening of the Britten was one of a number of moments which suggested what might have been. It was delightful in its caressing freedom and every note seemed perfectly placed.

    There were other passages, too, where sheer gorgeousness of tone won the day. But these were few and far between in an evening where the simple nostalgic romanticism of two short pieces by the cellist’s father, William Lloyd Webber, was altogether better served than the major fare that made up the bulk of the programme. MICHAEL DERVAN

  • Reviews: The Dresser – Everyman Palace, Cork

    @ 3:45 pm | by Fiona McCann

    There are two enormous and intertwined conflicts in Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser . The second World War is the almost overwhelming background to the battle being waged within and about Sir, an ageing actor- manager discovering that, while the show must go on, he doesn’t understand any longer why he has to be the one to keep it going. Or so he says, and perhaps so he believes.Máirin Prendergast’s direction for Skylight Productions strongly establishes the play’s context, like a globe in which the two chief characters, Sir, and his dresser, Norman, are captured in a blizzard of air raids.

    They are preparing for a performance of King Lear by Sir’s tired and understaffed company on a provincial tour, with England itself storm-beaten, anguished, frightened and confused. This is exactly how Sir feels, and it is from a state of explosive despair that Norman must rescue him, making sure he is costumed for the right play and reminding him, once again, of his opening phrases.

    The fact that these two leading roles have all the best lines doesn’t diminish the quality of the playing from the rest of a very competent cast, not least Martina Carroll as Her Ladyship (these are spurious titles, achieved through the nobility of make-believe). But the fact that these two parts interlock as the fulcrum of the play, carrying its defiant message of Lear-like constancy and bewilderment, brings them, and all about them, into the brightest spotlight.

    Both Conor Dwane as Norman and Alf McCarthy as Sir sink their teeth into Harwood’s writing. This is more subtle than perhaps either man has time to convey, and Dwane especially is hampered by an accent which he sustains gallantly even when the vocal pitch, set at crescendo, makes it impenetrable. As Sir, McCarthy uses a fuller tonal range, so that his swoops from physical and mental agony to the soaring elation of performance are entirely plausible.

    Although he has to struggle with a costume which, while consistent with the period, makes him look like a demented Father Christmas, both he and Dwane convey the equivocal nature of their relationship and the tension of a dressing room besieged by uncertainty and terror.

    With such a terrific writer as Harwood, there are scenes within scenes and meanings beyond the obvious. While these are all succinctly realised by a clear- speaking and disciplined cast, a little more attention to production details would have brought this credo to the transformational power of the theatre close to perfection.  MARY LELAND

  • Reviews: Leonard, Johnston, OSC/Daniel – NCH, Dublin

    November 13, 2008 @ 10:22 am | by Fiona McCann

    Bach – Concerto for Oboe and Violin.

    Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto.

    Elgar – Serenade for strings; Cello Concerto.

    The Orchestra of St Cecilia strayed well outside the norms of orchestral programme planning for the second of its November concerts at the National Concert Hall.

    With three concertos on offer rather than the more conventional one, this was an evening that managed to begin and end with concertos and offered just a single non-concertante work, Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, as a makeweight at the beginning of the second half.

    Violinist Catherine Leonard featured in both works in the first half, partnered by Nicholas Daniel (who was also the evening’s conductor) in a reconstruction of a Concerto for Oboe and Violin by Bach, and having the limelight to herself in Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor.

    Her playing in both works was light and nimble, although the lightness was not always to the music’s advantage.

    There was a strange lack of definition in the Bach, as if the overall sound picture was slightly out of focus, an effect that was fully dismissed only when Nicholas Daniel engaged in some moments of full-on expression.

    Leonard’s playing took some time to settle down in the Mendelssohn, most of the first movement in fact.

    It wasn’t really until after the cadenza that her mercurial musicality seemed to find its stride.

    Daniel’s lean and sharply accented handling of the orchestra may have deprived the music of some of its warmth, but it also had an adaptability which seemed to give Leonard free rein in her often impetuous and sometimes even skittish approach to the work.

    Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Cello Concerto are pieces often milked for more than they can actually yield. This performance avoided that pitfall.

    Admittedly, there was a certain expressive anaemia in the Serenade, and Guy Johnston’s reserve in the concerto may not have satisfied listeners who like cellists to take a heart-on-sleeve approach to this piece.

    Yet his playing lacked for nothing in nobility, and he brought to the concerto a sense of sometimes profound resignation which more than compensated for those moments where the pallor seemed too consistent.

    The audience was well-attuned to his message, and gave his performance the warmest response of the evening. MICHAEL DERVAN

  • Reviews: Cork City Ballet – Cork Opera House

    @ 10:21 am | by Fiona McCann

    Expertise is a good partner but no substitute for sophistication, and in The Sleeping Beauty Suite , Cork City Ballet director Alan Foley makes no mistake about the distinction.

    The dancers are experts, and in some cases more than that. But the vision, the approach and the style is utterly sophisticated.

    This is particularly the case in the first half of this programme, which consists of four divertissements, two of them contemporary works set to modern music.

    The muscular lyricism of Gira Con Me (music by Josh Groban, choreography by Alan Foley), expressed by Yuri Demakov, Leigh Alderton and Charles Washington, is carried into a different rhythmic context in Willing and Able (music by Prince, choreography by Foley again, Patricia Crosbie, and Sher Roberts), with the dancers led by Monica Loughman and Robert Gabdullin in a well-conceived performance involving the entire company, their austere costuming exploding into jewel-bright fragments for the finale.

    With a quarter of contrasts completed by the lovely Pas d’esclaf from Le Corsaire (the Petipa version with music by Delibes and Minkus), danced by Chikka Temma and Akzhol Mussakanov, and La Vivandière (Saint-Léon, with music by Pugni), danced by Asami Taki and Leigh Alderton, it becomes clear, as so often with Foley, that contemporary and classical dance can enrich one another in terms both of technique and interpretation.

    And of excitement too, for it is obvious again that these dancers must love Foley, who lets them revel in what they do best and puts them in gorgeous costumes as well.

    Meanwhile, Lisa Zagone’s setting of translucent drapes is constantly transformed by Paul Denby’s lighting design.

    With skill, brio and sheer enjoyment beaming from the stage (this time less successfully converted to a palace ballroom), it is no surprise that the dances from Aurora’s wedding scene in The Sleeping Beauty follow in sequences relying on the miracles of timing which ballet makes commonplace.

    Swept along by Tchaikovsky’s music, with Ekaterina Bortyakova as Princess Aurora, Monica Loughman and Robert Gabdullin as the Bluebirds and Chika Temma as the Lilac Fairy, and often with the entire stage a rainbow froth of glitter and tulle, it is easy to admire the elan of individual virtuosity and ensemble composure.

    Perhaps this is what prompts the desire for more context: after all, the wedding party is only the end of the story as told by Marius Petipa, although it’s a terrific party. MARY LELAND

  • Reviews: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui – Abbey Theatre, Dublin

    @ 10:20 am | by Fiona McCann

    There is an astonishing moment in the Abbey’s striking new production of The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui that halts Bertolt Brecht’s splenetic parody in its tracks, a moment so chilling that icicles form in the air.

    Tom Vaughan-Lawlor as the mercurial Ui, a Chicago gangster and despot in the making, is taking ridiculous lessons from an image consultant – Des Cave’s washed-up actor – and playing with his mannerisms like a child with a loaded gun.

    Suddenly he hits on a particular gesture, a salute so familiar, so easy to lampoon, that it shouldn’t shock us. But it does.

    His arm held aloft with unnerving intensity, it slices through the innumerable references in Vaughan-Lawlor’s extraordinary performance – the crumpled posture of Richard III, the Runyonesque “Noo Yoik” accent, the hyper-animation of Charlie Chaplin – and delivers not just a stunning picture of Hitler but a lesson in the dangerous allure of spectacle.

    Jimmy Fay’s production may arrive suffused with contextual parallels, carrying echoes of the 1929 depression and political disaffection into the present day, but its depiction of Chicago gangsters muscling in on the cauliflower business places its satiric emphasis squarely on America.

    Conor Murphy’s design, a starkly impressive picture of industrial grey recesses lined with vegetable crates and meathooks, also finds room for American iconoclast Jasper Johns, whose American Flag looms over the stage, while Denis Clohessy’s thrillingly effective music extends a guest appearance to Jimi Hendrix’s Star-Spangled Banner , piercing though the play’s sham trial scene.

    Such criticism may seem heavy-handed, particularly when the American political narrative has just entered one of its most hopeful chapters.

    Similarly, Brecht’s allegory – written in 1941, before the true horror of the “final solution” – is stodgy with political detail, leadenly announcing its historical allusions, here delivered by George Seremba through a loudhailer.

    For all the anti-illusion and distancing dictums of Brecht’s epic theatre, Fay’s production is most absorbing for its rich and rough aesthetic.

    Presenting Ui as a 20ft judge, towering over a perversion of justice, may overstate the point, but it feeds the imagination.

    Likewise, whatever Brecht’s misgivings about the seduction of performance, it’s the cast who hold the attention like a vice.

    Ui’s clownish cavorting and paranoid twisting wouldn’t be so effective without Eamon Morrissey’s haunted stillness as the corrupted Dogsborough, or Aidan Kelly’s nerveless tough guy, Roma.

    Kate Brennan and Malcolm Adams also distinguish themselves among an excellent supporting cast.

    Ultimately, though, this is Tom Vaughan-Lawlor’s show. His Ui uncurls at the play’s beginning like an awakening monster, tears through it with bravura (anyone who thinks he’s overdoing it should take a quick glance at the actual Hitler) and ends it on a pedestal surrounded by the corrupt, cowed and coerced. Brecht wrote the play to show how such creatures could be stopped.

    The charismatic demon and the appalling, enthralling momentum of the show seem to say the opposite. Resistance is useless. PETER CRAWLEY

  • Reviews: The Nose – Project Arts Centre

    November 12, 2008 @ 9:21 am | by Fiona McCann

    What’s missing from the Tom Swift’s new adaptation of Nikolai Gogol’s mesmerically absurd short story, The Nose ? It isn’t the status-hungry civil servant Kovalyov, who is still there somewhere under Aongus Óg McAnally’s thick layer of white make-up and hair dye. Nor is it the febrile imagination of the original, in which

    Kovalyov’s nose mysteriously departs his face and is discovered first in a bread roll, then walking the streets of St Petersburg in the uniform of a State Councillor.

    No, the strange absence in Performance Corporation’s handsome but muddled production is The Nose itself, a schnoz so prominent in Gogol’s fiction that it engages in conversation, fakes its own passport and even goes on the run. Here, though, the title character is largely an invisible presence, signified by chasing lights.

    It’s a disappointing omission, partly because there is precious little in the original to omit, but mainly because if any theatre company could get a talking nose onstage, it’s the dependably adventurous Performance Corporation. Sadly, without such animation, Swift and director Jo Mangan have further difficulties in fleshing out The Nose.

    Where Swift has previously compressed Voltaire’s Candide into a wild ride of playful invention for the company, this literary adaptation seems to stretch Gogol thin. The ludic conceit is neatly embellished with some good contemporary gags (and every conceivable pun) but suffers from an unusually slack pace and an unsuitably conventional narrative structure. Major Kovalyov is now a low-status official on the make, contending with a senile father (Alan Howley) and juggling two prospective wives – the penurious but virtuous Olga (Lisa Lambe) and the rich but monstrous Katerina (a ferociously funny creation from the excellent Conan Sweeney). He needs that nose back in order to attend the Civil Servants’ Ball.

    Beyond the Cinderella riff, Mangan’s production is a cocktail of allusions.

    Dream sequences performed between the warped mirrors and tapered ladder of Ciaran Bagnall’s traverse set suggest a monochrome Wonderland, while Kevin Treacy’s ominous splinters of light seem determined to inject some Kafka into the mix. Fluctuating between prolonged comic exchanges and more effective dance sequences, the production never finds a centre. Tellingly, one bravura scene has Lisa Lambe returning as a TV news presenter, archly sending up empty media conventions, but the words are self-defeating: the story so far, she reports, is “a farce or a satire on something or other”.

    Gogol himself is similarly equivocal (“There is much that is improbable in it,” his narrator dismisses). But while the production makes acerbic swipes at property, status, corruption and power, ultimately it doesn’t seem to have sniffed out the meaning either. Settling instead for an ending of pure sentimentality, its pat resolution suggests this gleeful effort to hunt for the elusive significance of Gogol’s fable has finally lost the scent. PETER CRAWLEY

  • Reviews: Kanye West – RDS Simmonscourt, Dublin

    November 11, 2008 @ 11:23 am | by Fiona McCann

    Are hip-hop celebrities at elevated risk of clinical megalomania and delusions of grandeur? Is that cause or correlation? Rap music was born of quickness and rhyme, and its early practitioners competed fiercely with each other to stay at the cutting edge. You had to be able to say you were the best, so mainly you rapped about how it was so patently clear that you were the best. That overt megalomania still spills out of all the top acts, but the trick has become to sharpen the point: what will be nature of the claim – bombastic, sarcastic, threatening, wry?

    Kanye West has chosen a straight-up form of pure vanity, a sterling self-regard, and he has grown too powerful to be in the avant-garde of the music. But as he showed at the RDS, he has not become a static dispenser of his own celebrity. Rather, he is still working it, sweating hard, digging deep and sincerely into a song when the rhymes need force behind them, while at other times just loping or lolling, chin thrust, through a riveting spectacle, letting the highly produced music share the stage with his highly produced persona.

    The stage: ’twas a thing of beauty, by turns giant laptop, spaceship dashboard and alien terrain. It also jetted various colours of flame, swivelled, and appeared to run with water and whip with blown sand. Two huge screens flanked it, with video constantly close-up on West to allow the audience to track the psychic drama playing on his face (introspection clear by firm set of jaw).

    West trod this fantastic contraption in a sort of Buck Rogers deerskin. The show was part hokey drama about a crashed spaceship with a satnav named Jane. West, stranded and alone, rapped and sang about the various travails of superstardom and the general loneliness of being brilliant. Then, after a bit of lewd dialogue, Jane transformed into the eponym of West’s greatest hit, Gold Digger , the shooting stars themselves proclaimed him the biggest star in the universe, West saved himself, blasted off, and was raptured back for two encores. DAVID SHAFER

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