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A scene from Javier De Frutos’s new “The Most Incredible Thing,” with an original score by the Pet Shop Boys. Gavin Evans photo courtesy Sadler’s Wells.
By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2011, 2017 Josephine Leask
LONDON — “The Most Incredible Thing,” seen in its premiere earlier this Spring at Sadler’s Wells, was a big event in the city’s dance calendar, attracting more anticipatory press coverage than any other dance happening since the local screening of “The Black Swan.” Pop stars, an infamous choreographer, a fairy-tale, phenomenal dancers and extravagant designs were some of its winning ingredients. Set to an evening-length score by the pop duo the Pet Shop Boys, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe, who were inspired to make a work based on Hans Christian Andersen’s story of the same name, “The Most Incredible Thing” centers on nothing less than the power of art to stand up to human destruction.
Tennant and Lowe’s composition is based on their distinctive electronic dance music, here performed by a full orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Direction and choreography is by Javier de Frutos, an inspired choice by ‘The Boys’ and a marriage made it heaven — at least so it appeared from the strength of the collaboration. De Frutos has made a welcome comeback to Sadler’s Wells after having been reviled by some dance critics and spectators for his controversial piece “Eternal Damnation to Sancho and Sanchez,” performed as part of “In the Spirit of Diaghilev” at Sadler’s Wells in October 2009. That work, a response to the inventive and flamboyant scenarios and designs of Jean Cocteau, depicted a fictional pope who raped and molested alter boys and raped a pregnant nun. While it was not the first De Frutos work to feature sex and violence, it was so intentionally over the top that while some spectators and critics took offense, others raved about it. However, de Frutos received death threats and a lot of negative press, the final rejection coming from the BBC, which cancelled plans to broadcast de Frutos’s work during Christmas on a program with three other choreographers.
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As Jean Cocteau demonstrated — by having the same actor morph from the Beast into the Prince in his 1946 film version of the fairy tale, both adroitly and equally embodied by Cocteau’s muse Jean Marais — “The Beauty and the Beast” is as much about the beheld as the beholder, and her power to see and perceive beyond appearances. Jeanne Marie Leprince de Beaumont’s eternal tale of spiritual clairvoyance and connivance gets another reading starting tomorrow night at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art from NYC nouveau cabaret legend Julie Atlas Muz and her real-life partner London cabaret and side-show artist Mat Fraser. (And who unfortunately do not credit de Beaumont, at least in the MoCA press release. Creative sources matter; the phantasmagorical wasn’t born with Julie Atlas Muz.) Joined by a pair of marionettists from the UK theater company Improbable, they draw on song, dance, puppetry, shadow-play, and custom-made prosthetic arms for Fraser (born with phocomelia). Directed by Phelim McDermott, the show is also performed December 4, 8, and 11. A “relaxed performance” December 9 will, according to the PR, foster “a welcoming environment for people with learning disabilities and/or sensory communication impairments,” as pertains to “noise and movement in the seating area” and with “modified house lighting and sound.” The artists will lead a workshop on December 10, and Fraser will take part in a free discussion on sexuality in the disabled community on December 11. Bronwen Sharp photo courtesy Chicago MoCA.
Among the bargains available in Artcurial’s October 18 auction of Impressionist and Modern Art in Paris are a caché of 16 drawings by Jean Cocteau, who once wrote: “When I draw, in a way I empty myself of my fatigues and anguishes. My hand turns into a fairy and works independently. It gives me the spectacle of what its intervention is capable of extracting from me that I’m practically unaware of.” Above: Jean Cocteau (1889 – 1963), “Le tango,” 1915. Ink on paper, 8.86 x 10.04 inches. Signed at the lower right corner, “Jim” (a common nom de plume for Cocteau). Artcurial pre-sale estimate: 1,000 – 1,500 €. Image copyright and courtesy Artcurial.