The Barefaced Night

Tue 21st – Sat 25th February 2012

reviews

Duncan Lindsey

at 11:27 on 22nd Feb 2012

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"The Barefaced Night" claims that it tells a powerful and fantastical fairy-tale through almost every artistic medium possible. The very idea sounded fantastical in itself. I have to admit, I was skeptical that the various ingredients could be strung together with fluidity, and in a way that managed to coherently portray a story of such mixed emotion. However, I’m happy to say that my doubts found no support on the night. This show was excellent entertainment.

I immediately got the impression that one hell of a lot of work had gone into every moment of this piece. A massive mention should go to Hannah Moore and Cedric Tan for their incredible and seamless choreography. The music was as supernatural as the plot – of particular note, a didgeridoo used to brilliant atmospheric effect, an electric guitar that sent shivers down my back, and a cunning percussionist, sometimes with instruments I’d never seen before, that always managed to get my foot tapping. Lastly, but probably most fundamentally, the spoken word was the icing to the cake. The solid backbone of the dancing was given flesh and direction by a collection of poetry that painted for me an image of a wizened storyteller around the campfire – perhaps how the story would have been told in Scandinavia? One point worth making, however, is about volumes. Occasionally, important words couldn’t be heard over the music, or the howling wind was a little too ear-splitting (I don’t think several chorus singers really need a microphone), which only made Fayra’s journey scene seem like it went on a little too long. On another note, the projection and pronunciation took a few scenes to pick up, but was brilliant by the second half. Without first night jitters, I’m sure it’ll pack just as much punch from the beginning.

On stage, different ideas seemed to spring up all over the place. Although all were truly good ones, the quantity was sometimes so great that I felt only a few had the chance to be fully explored. In other words, I occasionally got the impression that in the construction of the piece, the team had added extra, unnecessary weight to an already-difficult task of synchronizing so many forms of performing art. For example, there was a very brief dance scene of hip-hop, ballet, ballroom, contemporary and even ribbon dancing which, although very impressive, wasn’t really reflected in the otherwise constant style of the rest of the piece. Furthermore, I felt that the solo singer, who was obviously exceptionally talented, didn’t really add much to the tale and was perhaps left a little too unaccompanied to avoid giving an empty timbre in his pauses. However, for the most part, where creativity was not a little swamped, it was incredibly evocative. An excellent example is the portrayal of “Dream Fayra and Valemon”, brilliantly capturing the contrast between the joy of falling love and the dangers of an insatiable, passion-driven curiosity. I especially enjoyed the imagery of Fayra dancing alongside her phantom self and face-less lover.

As for cast, Anja Meinhardt (Fayra) and Tanner Efinger (Valemon) were breathtaking. Together they added a true sense of professionalism to the piece, and I thought that, individually, their dancing had astounding style and flare. Fayra was beautiful to watch – there was a fluid form to her movement that betrayed superb dancing talent. Her shocking transition from jovial, mischievous princess to heartbroken and desperate wreck was rivalled only by Valemon’s juggle of both tender lover and aggressive animal. An excellent dancer himself, Valemon’s fight scenes with the members of court were amongst the most exciting moments of the show. Together, the couple had strong chemistry, and consequently, the love scene was one of my favourites. I’m sure several members of the audience were hiding blushes as they each wishfully pictured themselves in such an encounter. I felt Alan Buckley (King) had an excellent story-telling feel to his spoken word, whereas Jordan Saxby’s pitch was packed with delicious emotion – a refreshing contrast of styles, and utilized well to portray plot and character respectively. It was also immediately apparent that the two sister princesses, played by Charlotte Garner and Katherine Skingsley, were exceptionally talented dancers, nor did their subtle acting go unnoticed. They’re disjointed and yet precise pieces with the bear were subsequently hilarious. Lastly, I thought Gabrielle Gulo (The Darer) was lacking in character, perhaps due to inadequate introduction in the first half. I suppose this was partially understandable, given that her script didn’t exactly give much room for theatrical interpretation. But consequently, the pauses in her scenes were really felt, and I wish there had been more menace, or trickery, or something to push the scenes along, and give more than just her static demeanor.

Hannah Moore should be extremely proud of her creation. The few pitfalls, ironically, have more to do with ironing out little bits, rather than with the overall concept of using all of dance, voice and instrument to tell a simple story. With the certainty that energy and precision will rise throughout the week, and the hope that actors backstage will either stop whispering or turn off their mics, I think this show is definitely a success. A massive well done to all the teams involved. "The Barefaced Night" is a feat of entertainment.

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Anca Farcas

at 11:43 on 22nd Feb 2012

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The best and worst part of living in such a university-centered city is that the majority of events are usually organized by students...and occasionally, you come across a show that is so painfully bad that it causes your stomach to cringe in despair. So, you lower your

standards and open your mind to new experiences.....BUT the production and the show "The Barefaced Night" were simply exceptional, which means that again Oxford's artistic standards are

officially raised to unbearably high levels of quality. It would be a loss to miss such a delicately choreographed performance, which left the audience not only with a truly enchanted feeling, but impressed with the overall creative vision and attention to detail that

transpired throughout the show.

The centrepiece of the play is undoubtedly Fayra, the youngest of the king's daughters and the one most willing to challenge her privileged but rather boring existence in search of excitement, and perhaps even herself. Anja Meinhardt's interpretation of Fayra was

perfect at capturing first the childishness of the princess, then the passion of a young bride, the frustration of not being able to see her lover, to possess him completely in a selfish way, then the curiosity, the grief when she loses Valemon, the despair of the search, the sacrifice, the pain, the love when they become reunited. Her acting, her dancing, her gestures...it was not only a fantastic performance, but above all, it was complete. No member of the cast disappoints, and together they produce memorable scenes, such as the ones when the bear comes to court for Fayra, fights the soldiers...but

fetches a different daughter, only to bring her back later on with the sad but hilarious realization that she is not the “right woman” for him. I found it so beautiful when the bear finally gets Fayra to his kingdom in the forest and dance, their bodies in perfect synchrony,

a symbol of their union.

When you hear about dance theatre, you perhaps are a bit unsure as to what to really expect. But this combination of various dance styles (from ballet to capoeira), poetic storytelling, simple yet inventive costumes and settings, and the live music, make for a

perfect recipe to render such a gentle yet complex and intense folk tale. I can't even begin to imagine the amount of effort and dedication that the production crew and cast invested in fine-tuning this show, especially given the swiftness with which the scenes changed. You never felt like you were trapped in one of those endless monotonous acts; there was always movement, light effects, you wanted to know what happens next, not what the time

was....I can easily conclude from the applauses that the audience had a great time! “Have you ever seen more clearly than you see now?”, the bear asked Fayra...Go SEE "The Barefaced Night"!

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