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Awakenings at Bloomsbury Theatre | Review

An evening of four brief performances all from an exciting company, Awakenings is an evening of innovative and intriguing performances. While not all of it resonated with me, I was hooked by the performances and left wanting more.

Awakenings at Bloomsbury TheatreThe up-and-coming company McNicol Ballet Collective certainly have a lot to offer and a lot of new ways to express it. Over the course of 2 hours, we watch four short performances, interspersed with videos about the process of making the ballet. Each dance is unique, and while the style has distinctive continuity, each dance brings its meanings to the evening.

The show opens with a man alone on stage with dramatic lighting and discomforting sound playing above him. He explores the space and is joined by the rest of the company. From there, the choreography explores power, intimacy and is an intense performance. The piece takes a lot of twists and turns; it moves through themes and ideas with a fluidity that just about manages to tie the four dances together.

The choreography is the most interesting part of the night. There is little to no ‘beat’ to the music (aside, of course, from the Stravinsky), and in tune with this is dancers dancing ‘out of time’. Of course, I do not think for a moment this was accidental, and this had some real moments which established relationships, status and the dynamics of the piece.

One of the simplest pleasures of ballet is often the sheer beauty of the music, especially of the movement. The McNicol Collective do not pay much heed to this convention; at moments, there is palpable discomfort, and the sound is jarring. I think this does break down barriers in attempts to bring out the audience’s emotions rather than being chained down by convention. The dismissal of tradition is not always the strongest part of the show, the costumes are often inexplicably odd and look space-age chic, and at moments the themes of the dance were at odds with the feelings of the music.

The star of the show was the final dance: Firebird. Aside from the elaborate and complex beauty of Stravinsky’s composition, the dancers came together and, in a cohesive movement sequence, offered the audience a more comprehensive narrative that worked to significant effect. It was deeply evocative, a statement I cannot really qualify other than that it brought out many emotions I did not expect to be so visceral.

There were videos between the dances in each act. I did not understand these. I spent most of it trying to work out why there were there, costume changes can be done very swiftly, and dancers regularly dance for two even three-hour shows. They provided some context for the performance but little else.

This was a very interesting evening. I don’t think all the dances worked, but none were without intriguing ideas and moments. There is so much innovation and paths being explored in ballet, this collective is right there amongst this exciting new phase, and I am left with great anticipation of what is yet to come.

4 stars

Review by Tom Carter

Awakenings is the debut programme of world premiere ballets by choreographer Andrew McNicol.

These four exciting contemporary ballets have all been inspired by musical composition. The evening includes a brand-new reimagined version of Firebird. Performed in what is the 50th anniversary since Stravinsky’s death.

Awakenings also features Of Silence, an exploration of hope, connection and belonging performed to and inspired by the music of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks. Set to an original, specially commissioned score by Nicholas Thayer and Setareh Nafisi, In Ecstasy is a choreographic and musical response to the progressive, eccentric composer Alexander Scriabin. Completing the programme is Bates Beats an energetic, exuberant work conceived to showcase the power, excellence and individuality of the McNicol Ballet Collective’s incredible dancers, set to a pulsating soundtrack by American composer Mason Bates.

McNicol Ballet Collective: Awakenings
13th & 14th November 2021
https://www.ucl.ac.uk/

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