Pictures from an Exhibition (London 2009)

Pictures from an Exhibition at .html Director and choreographer Daniel Kramer has brought his dance spectacle on the life of Mussorgsky to the Young Vic in a dance theatre collaboration with Sadler's Wells Pictures From an Exhibition, a Curtain Up London review CurtainUp

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A CurtainUp London London Review
Pictures From an Exhibition

(Mussorgsky) has a narrow nature, is totally devoid of a desire for self improvement, and is deluded by a blind faith in the absurd theories of his own circle and in his own genius.— Tchaikovsky writing about Modest Mussorgsky
Pictures From an Exhibition
Margarita Zafrilla Olaya, Edward Hogg and Michela Meazza
(Photo: Alastair Muir)
Director and choreographer Daniel Kramer has brought his dance spectacle on the life of Mussorgsky to the Young Vic in a dance theatre collaboration with Sadler's Wells. Pictures From an Exhibition is both zany and bizarre and although the national papers sent their dance critics, I somehow think this show will get a mixed reaction from traditional ballet lovers, but for theatre critics it is a visual treat. As my companion said to me, I'm not sure I understand it, but I like it.

What Kramer's choreography does not encourage is complacency. We are in uncomfortable territory—from the first sight of ever increasingly large doors like a nightmare, to the bare bums under the nightshirts, as the child abuse by Mussorgsky's music teacher is revealed. Here is the life story of a great musician who was troubled by alcoholism, epilepsy and insanity. The final uncompromising painted portrait by Ilya Repin of the composer, inappropriately named Modest Mussorgsky reveals him bloated, a red weathered complexion with a livid red nose and wild hair as if he had just emerged from his living space in a cardboard box on London's South Bank.

Pictures From an Exhibition was written by Mussorgsky (Edward Hogg) as a tribute to his dead friend, the architect and painter Victor Hartmann (Vinicius Salles). Although devised around the remaining images of the pictures which inspired Mussorgsky, the dance piece Pictures From an Exhibition also draws on real and imagined scenes from Mussorgsky's own life story. The egg like costumes which were designed by Hartmann for The Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks become an enduring theme, with eggs prominent in the dance story whether outsized ostrich eggs or small hen's eggs which double as male anatomical features or are broken over Mussorgsky's head.

In the opening scene we see Mussorgsky blown backwards by a strong wind, trying to open a series of increasingly large doors until he cannot reach even the door knob, let alone open the door. An anachronistic vending machine dispenses bottles of vodka which he gulps down in one. Suddenly the deep set stage transforms into a brilliantly lit area with silhouetted figures from the nineteenth century in glorious hats and tailoring criss-crossing the stage in the commotion and interest of the Promenade. For Gnomus 1, a demon (Inn Pang Ooi) in red dunce's hat and green tights athletically torments two men cowering in nightshirts with a babies' bottle and eggs where their appendages might be. Victor says he's not ill but we see him collapse. Three women dancers wearing just tulle skirts dance a mysterious, evocative and lyrical dance joined by three men, also muses in grey tulle skirts. This elegant interlude sees Victor and Mussorgsky joining in— maybe a tribute to their friendship and happiness together.

We return to scenes from Mussorgsky's childhood with the scolding Nanya (Kath Duggan) who tells the boy to beware the Bogey woman (Margarita Zafrilla Olaya), a frightening figure of wild hair and wearing just a loincloth of green horns. There is a piano lesson with the teacher baring the bottoms of his pupils and Mussorgsky as a baby trapped in a glass box by the Bogey woman but eventually rescued by his mother (Michela Meazza).

Mussorgsky's career in the military academy sees him introduced to drinking parties as the cast cavort in red military tunics seduced by the vodka sporting Russian bears. Four dancers line up with arms on shoulders to circle with the outer two being spun round with their feet off the floor, a manoeuvre military in its planning and execution. The army school is a joyous place, full of camaraderie, but as the soldiers go into battle and are shot they fling their jackets open revealing their chest as if they have just suffered the impact of a bullet. The soldiers are shot, fall over but get up again as the carnage is repeated in a dance.

The stage is at once full of dancers and there is a techno arrangement of Mussorgsky's music as the contorting, jerking dances recreate Mussorgsky's epilepsy in the smoke of a battlefield. Immediately the crowd scene clears and we see Mussorgsky with his friend Anatoly who asks Mussorgsky to leave so that he may marry. Lit yellow and mauve ,two dancers with yellow tutus and long beaks are the birds of the ballet. These are the women pecking away at Mussorgsky's male friendships and he ends up with egg all over his head! Mussorgsky is forced by the Russian bears to drink vodka represented as if in degradation he is made to drink their urine as the news comes through that his mother has died. We see her in the same picture frame that Victor was in when we heard of his death. As Mussorgsky's friend leaves for his married life, there is a dance between couples, a slapping fight but sexual, part embrace, part fight as Mussorgsky the bachelor is sidelined.

Seven men appear in red wigs as Mussorgsky's personality is shattered and the Bogey woman returns with convulsive effect. Finally the doors are flung open, there is light and to the wonderful celebratory anthem of The Great Gate of Kiev a dancer's hand touches another dancer who dies and rolls in stately progress until they rise up again carrying another dancer aloft and in the semidarkness they form majestic oversized figures.

This company has dancers who have worked with Matthew Bourne and Punchdrunk. Mussorgsky's music is rousing and tuneful and has never been previously choreographed. Daniel Kramer and Frauke Requardt's dances are innovative, impressionistic and imaginative, at times brutal in their imagery but always stimulating and beautifully designed and lit.

Pictures From an Exhibition
Directed by Daniel Kramer
Choreographed by Frauke Requardt and Daniel Kramer
Devised with the company

Text: James Fenton
With: Canor Doyle, Kath Duggan, Edward Hogg, Carl Joseph, Rob McNeill, Michela Meazza, Inn Pand Ooi, Vinicius Salles, Margarita zafrilla Olayo
Design: Richard Hudson
Lighting: Peter Mumford
Sound: Fergus O'Hare
Musical Supervision and Arrangement: Joel Fram
Running time: One hours 30 minutes without an interval
Box Office: 020 7928 6363
Booking to 23rd May 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 13th May 2009 performance at the Young Vic, The Cut, Waterloo, London SE1 (Rail/Tube: Waterloo/Southwark)

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