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Sadler’s Wells and Young Vic present

Pictures from an Exhibition

 

 

by David Kramer and Frauke Requardt

 

Directed by David Kramer

 

Sadler’s Wells

 

April 23 – 24, 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A review by James Richards for EXTRA! EXTRA!

A contemporary dance interpretation of Mussorgsky’s piano suite Pictures at an Exhibition at Sadler’s Wells was a mouth-watering prospect. But for all the vivacity and colour, director David Kramer and choreographer Frauke Requardt’s production falls just short of the mark.

Here, Mussorgsky is close to death and this, his final hallucination brings forth the principal characters of his life – his mother, father and Viktor Hartmann, an architect and painter with whom Mussorgsky was in love – over scored by his most well-known piano composition. Mussorgsky wrote the suitein Hartmann’shonour after the latter’s sudden death and with each movement the composer commemorates one of his friend’s paintings.

The opening five minutes was extremely promising – Mussorgsky, played with stormy sensitivity by Chris New casts around in a darkened corridor, whose impossible proportions would impress Lewis Carroll. The living Hartmann stands in a picture frame high on the wall, then vanishes to be replaced on the stage by a throng of dancers in Russian period clothing. Mussorgsky, raging against the dying of the light, desperately tries to communicate with them as the chimes of the Promenade evoke church bells in a frosty Russian square. A ceremonial feel to the choreography movingly belittles the dying man’s frustrations.

Despite this powerful start, Kramer and Requardt draw a series of biographical conclusions from the piano movements, and we very quickly forget whether we’re watching a dance exposition of the suite, or a potted history of its composer. Imagined episodes from Mussorgsky’s life are spliced with the movements seemingly at will. Even though we’re deeply affected by the composer’s personal tragedy, and his strength of feeling towards Hartmann is never in doubt, we struggle to find firm root for our emotions.

Nevertheless, much of Requardt’s work here is undoubtedly first-rate, combining ballet and contemporary stylings. Designer Richard Hudson’s set is gorgeously lit by Peter Mumford, who handles the light space superbly. In a late scene, dancers’ arms catch bright white light on the dark stage, picked out by intermittent spots from left and right.

This is a brave production, probing Mussorgsky’s sexual experiences in detail, pushing the boundaries of what the Sadler’s Wells audience would expect – probably not a dancer in an evil teddy bear suit simulating the urination of vodka into Mussorgsky’s mouth. What it lacks in consistency, Pictures from an Exhibition compensates with dash and bravado.  Just a little more soul would make this tragic picture perfect.

 

 

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