Cinderella goes to war, Benjamin Britten shares the blitz

07_MATTHEW_BOURNE_S_CINDERELLA._Ashley_Shaw_Cinderella_and_Andrew_Monaghan_Harry_.jpgAshley Shaw and Andrew Monaghan in "Cinderella." Photo by Johan Persson.

It's not a Broadway musical, it's not a fairy tale ballet. But, surely, Matthew Bourne's "Cinderella" is the choreographer's show-dance extravaganza that everyone must see.

Why? Because, for starters, it hitches Prokofiev's luminous score to the right cart — 1940, when the composer lived under Stalin's shadow and wrote music with splintering chords and high-stress dissonance along with wistful lyricism, when World War II and the London blitz were realities, a time when movies like "Waterloo Bridge" (Vivien Leigh and Robert Taylor) draw us into their existential despair and moral conflict.

Yes. All of that comes under Bourne's scrutiny, as he turns heart-warming parody and unabashed sentiment into stagecraft of the first order -- without a word spoken or a song sung. He shapes his narrative purely from dance gesture, impersonation and intermittent group routines. He collaborates with brilliant designer Lez Brotherston. For their "Cinderella" they conjure sirens, air strikes, bombed-out ruins and war havoc, up to and including little diversions like a night at Piccadilly's Café de Paris.

Nor does he shy away from today's cultural realities, the open behaviors that sexual liberalism mandates. Just imagine the leap from Oscar Wilde, brutalized and criminalized in his day, to Sir Matthew, knighted by the Queen for his world-wide theatrical recognition.

It's a direct naturalism that Bourne so easily embodies in his creations — like the walk-away view of an ass-wiggling guy, who doesn't mind amusing us with his funny flirtation, his gay mugging.

Except for the romantic leads, who get to dance swoony pas de deux, all the surrounding characters are etched as lovable semi-cartoons (the kind Jules Feiffer might turn out if he could make dances as well as he illustrates them).

There's the hilarious lush of a stepmother (Madelaine Brennan) vamping the hero, a head-bandaged, shot-down RAF pilot (Andrew Monaghan); the librarian-type cindergirl (Ashley Shaw) who transforms from braided-mousey to Ginger Rogers ballroom glam; the guardian angel (a lanky yet athletic Liam Mower) who performs his necessary miracle to make it all happen. And he even updates the coach to a motor bike with side car for escorting the soon-to-be bride.

When you think that it's Bourne, Brotherston and Prokofiev in this amalgam of show-dance and ballet roots, one that is all balanced on a sturdy base of caractère, you understand its particular brand of theater. No translation needed. And the entire company, New Adventures, carries it off wonderfully.

The only thing left out for this revival was the live orchestra (a budget casualty), leaving a somewhat less-than-ideal sound system to deliver the recorded music. (At the Ahmanson downtown through March 10.)

But across the street at Disney Hall we got the opposite story — a case of guest conductors who can't resist the glorious acoustic at the LA Phil headquarters or the orchestra's big, luxuriant, flexible outpourings. So no matter what expressive shaping or interpretive slant Simone Young might have had in mind when she led our resident virtuosos through Britten's Four Sea Interludes from "Peter Grimes," something got lost.

Those distant, wistfully estranged elements, for instance, the subverted turmoil that creeps in alongside the stormy sections were not to be found. Instead the Australian maestra did everything to the hilt. She just, well, let it fly.

Not so with the other Britten piece, his Serenade for tenor, horn and strings, in a remarkable account. Here, Young gained the advantage of Michael Slattery, whose high voice in all its expressive manifestations gave us the poetry of Tennyson, Blake et al in a word-pointed way that the music set up so powerfully.

Young's fellow Australian, Andrew Bain, the Phil's principal horn, added one of those rare solo performances — touchingly ethereal and unspeakably difficult to pull off, involving natural harmonics.

But if Britten speaks too much of connoisseur-ship for some, then Strauss's "Also sprach Zarathustra" had to send the folks home happy, if not humming. And Young gave them what they came for — a big, Technicolor, all-out orchestral orgy. Sort of a Brünnhilde-type herself, she reveled in its peaks of Germanic triumph.

Itzhak-Perlman-Documentary-Release-.jpgNone of that characterized Itzhak Perlman (right), of course, when he joined Hankus Netsky's Klezmer Conservatory Band at Disney. And if you never encountered this particular combo before it had to come as a surprise. Because the celebrated violinist, even with a few solo entries, really did comport himself like one of the boys in the band. They rocked the ethnic shtetl music and found joy in this lively mix of middle European Jewish tunes and Dixieland jazz. Simply infectious. And if Yo-Yo Ma has a Silk Road, then surely Perlman belongs to Klezmer.

That's music, for you — a huge spectrum, infecting and affecting our lives from end to end. But dance, unless, it has innovators like Bourne or Pina Bausch, or Antony Tudor or George Balanchine, to name a few, only occasionally makes a dent in our consciousness.

The zany, ultra-musical, culturally conscious Twyla Tharp is among them. And it is her association with Hubbard Street Chicago that clings to the memory. So, too, an early linkage with the Joffrey Ballet, which served as the platform for her striking debut work, "Deuce Coupe," decades ago. Glenn Edgerton, known admiringly from the Joffrey and now Hubbard Street's director, hails from those times. He also performed with and took over such a high-level European stronghold as Nederlands Dans Theater, where elaborately wide-scope creativity was/is the order of the day.

But now the realm of American postmodern dance, even at Hubbard Street, seen here at the Wallis, has generally gone small-scale. Lots of body mechanics. Stages full of dancercises. Nothing too directly associative. Heavy on undefined aura. Hardly an idea to float out the door with.

Which is not to say that Edgerton didn't put effort into his roundup of various choreographers' works — which even included an onstage instrumental ensemble. And the dancers, as always, were top notch. He did add a thing of comic lightness, Cerrudo's whimsical "Pacopepepluto" with a trio of guys sprinting cross-stage in faux-naked solos to those utterly affable Dean Martin recordings.

Only Nahad Oharin's vintage "Ignore," to Arvo Pärt's tinkly piano music, yielded something more to think about — humor, toughness, modernity, resignation, the mundane-ness of life.

You can safely trust the Israeli choreographer to ferret out a hook, theatrically savvy as he is. And the proof of that is finding his work on many companies' stages. Here he uses the always catchy Charles Bukowski's lines as the central stimulus for five women who perform as one-at-a-time body punctuations, each reciting another element to the phrase: "ignore all concepts and possibilities, just make it, babe...ignore Beethoven... the spider... 'Damnation of Faust'." It completes with "make the car the rent."

Sort of a stunt. One time and done. Next up is his full-length "Venezuela" at Royce Hall (March 15-16), courtesy of Batsheva Dance Company, and it purports to lay out the political issues of this embattled country. Something to anticipate.

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