Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"Stage Presence From Head To Toe" by Karen A. Hagberg

Illustration (left) ©Copyright 2003 The Scarecrow Press, Inc. All Rights Acknowledged.

This work strangely only gets going halfway through - as if the author began with what she knew best, worked through to the end, and then addressed what she considered the ancillaries; some of which were placed at the beginning. Consequently the sections following "The Orchestra" on page 47 inclusive are most coherent; while those preceding, for example "The Small Ensemble", read as a largely repetitive subset of this 109 page publication (including Bibliography).

All the material, set within the realm of classical rendition, is based on the principle of 'The Listener's enjoyment of the Music is paramount, and anything that distracts the Listener from its performance should be eliminated'.

While such a defensive approach does have value, it by no means portrays the full story; there is negligible mention of how a special rapport might be established with the audience, and nothing at all about how it might be enhanced. As such, the marketing of Dr.Hagberg's work under the title "Stage Presence" is hardly justifiable. "Stage Conduct" would have been less sexy but more apt.

There are some "Don'ts" and too few "Dos"; most iterated more than a handful of times, and the book does positively boast illustrations which drive the points home very well indeed.

Dry, procedural and uninspiring... it is an attempt which could have been précised in less than half the space. If the publishers had had a certain minimum size in mind (as I'm sure they would have done), then there would have been plenty of room for personal insight - Dr. Hagberg presents workshops and offers consultancy in this area, and thus should have had plenty of scope to demonstrate her expertise. Sadly, this was overlooked.

Overall, "Stage Presence From Head To Toe" is a flawed endeavour; an squandered opportunity whose strong concept deserves a well-planned revision.

Loo Yeo

Sunday, October 03, 2010

1st October 2010 Havana Rakatan @Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Havana Rakatan, the Cuban dance show spectacular, had been making large enough waves that even the regions far-flung from Britain's capital had heard of, albeit perhaps not witnessed, it. That changed as Summer's September gave way to Autumn's October, when Sheffield was chosen to launch the company's 2010 UK tour. Unusually, Havana Rakatan stayed for four nights instead of the usual Latin dance show's just one; a sure sign that artistic directors have begun to realise a-more-than-cursory interest in the genre.

(All Rights Acknowledged)

I thought it'd be a fine thing to start the weekend on a high, so on Friday night I plopped myself in Circle and thumbed excitedly through the programme. Good thing I did too, because as it later transpired, no audio narrator is present with this production. By the time the show commenced, I'd gathered that it was cleaved into two acts - the first comprising five scenes set from the early colonial period until 'El Manicero' of the late 1920s, with the exception of the contemporary opening of El Malecón in contemporary Havana. The second act has scenes set in 1940s 'Golden Havana', 1950s-60s, 1970s, and Modern Havana.

A lot can be gleaned from what was emphasised and what was left out - it was clear that the show differed little from 'Lady Salsa' and 'Pasión de Buena Vista' in portraying an idealised fantastical Cuba. Havana Rakatan possessed scenes of strong multi-textural themes, whose layered meanings were sufficient to satisfy a broad audience: from the 'there-to-be-wowed-by-the-dancing' to the culture aficionado. As such, modern standards internationalised by the Buena Vista Social Club did make an appearance: 'Chan Chan' and 'Candela' although the latter was reworked in such a musically satisfying manner, I doubt that many recognised it from the album.

The company's band "Turquino" was typical of a stage ensemble where versatility is paramount. Many of its nine personnel (excluding lead male and lead female vocals) were multi-instrumentalists: the bassist taking on lead vocals; the bongocero also playing timbales; and horn players singing backing vocals. The phrasing of their music was spot-on for each genre - it's not an easy task to play well the musics spanning more than a century. Turquino's professionalism came across best in their understated nature, never detracting from the main focus of the show which was the dancing.

It's here that the show was greater than any other of its ilk.

Being unable to rely upon the crutch of the spoken word, the choreography had to convey every facet of the narrative. The dancers, being graduates of Havana's Escuela Nacional de Arte were proficient in timing, execution and performance, although admittedly some were markedly better than others. There were a few surprises too, some great 'salsa' style dancers were less comfortable performing rumba and vice versa. And I found the rumba columbia segment too tinged with jazz movement and not flavoured enough from Matanzas, but I'd forgive the necessity to sacrifice authenticity for the sake accessibility.

If there was an Achilles' Heel in the repetoire, it was in the execution of the non-native forms like the mambo where the dancers' foot-speed was sluggish (the lead male vocalist possessed far superior foot-speed than the dancers; he could have showed them a thing or two), and the body-speeds lacked shading. Likewise the brass section was too small to deliver brashness and punch, and neither did the timbales attack quite early enough. But those were simply minor shadows in what is a high quality commission by Sadlers Wells. Havana Rakatan bears all the hallmarks of that Theatre's excellent standards - the set design, lighting, and sound reinforcement enhance the experience without being obtrusive. The programme notes could benefit from the same level of attention, given its primacy from the lack of commentary.

Havana Rakatan has come closest to transporting me to escapist Cuba, and is easily the show I would most rather to see again.

Loo Yen Yeo