Билли Эллиоты на сцене и в жизни, в Лондоне и в Москве
Юные таланты и взрослые поклонники, или о природе театральных эмоций
Here are my reviews from Billy Elliot The Musical - The Complete Forum (the thread "Billys are different... What's exacty different about them?") which is now closed and Billy Elliot the Forum - The New Forum for Fans. More detailed and conceptual text about Billy Elliot the Musical: Oliver Taylor's Last Night: Rhapsody in Russian Blue.
1. About Oliver Taylor's interpretation of Billy Elliot part:
Chris wrote (Posted: Sun May 25, 2008 10:39 am) :
George [Maguire] – full of energy and aggression. Good humoured, a streetwise Billy
James [Lomas] – a quieter Billy. A portrayal that was a bit more inward looking, reflecting the age of this Billy, as somebody of the brink of adolescence, moving from childhood to being a young man and struggling with all this involved.
Liam [Mower] – I think his portrayal changed with time. A somewhat quiet, diffident Billy who was likeable and respectful of adults. He seemed deeply affected by the loss of his mum.
Leon [Cook] – again, a performance which developed as he aged. He was a placid boy, who seemed to be a “normal” teenager, without a lot of aggression.
Travis [Yates] – smiley, happy and vulnerable.
Matthew [Coon] – a quiet introvert who was very much lost in the world in which he inhabited. Picked on by the ballet girls, he only really came alive when he was dancing.
Colin [Bates] – a larger than life Billy, bags of smiles and energy. His Billy was very secure in himself.
Layton [Williams] – young, vulnerable, with a good sense of humour and consideration for those around him.
Corey [Snide] – another larger than life Billy, lots of smiles and energy, again, but with a vulnerability there too.
Olly [Taylor] – His was the closest to Liam, I think.
Josh [Fedrick] – a more reserved portrayal. A teenager on the brink of adolescence. Can be moody and arrogant, but also caring and considerate.
Trent [Kowalik] – another charismatic Billy. Living for the day, happy and outgoing. Somebody who is good fun to be around.
I don’t have much to say about Sam [Angell] or Dean [McCarthy], and I haven’t seen Hogan [Fulton].
VaRus wrote (Posted: Mon May 26, 2008 9:41 pm):
Olly: diffident - maybe. But quiet? Likeable? Respectful of adults? I don't think so.
Looks like that I, with my English, have to write myself about Oliver's interpretation. My description of Olly's portrayal is going to be schematic ... and radical.
From the very beginning you could feel a palpable tension. When Olly's Billy first appeared and started singing "Take me up and hold me gently, Raise me up and hold me high", my first thought was: What this ethereal creature's doing here? He couldn't belong to that community of burly men: he's obviously alien! That song sounded as a desperate plea - not to his father or his family or his community - but to Him, who is above. That's why for this interpretation it's important to have that angelic high voice of a choirboy that could soar to the heights and reach His ear there.
In more formulaic terms: this Billy was a romantic figure in a harsh realistic environment. By definition he was not able to adapt to it and all the temptations of that real world reflected in Debby's and Michael's antics were not for him; so he needed an escapist romantic world and it was granted to him from above. There his mum was alive and he was able to properly live himself through dancing. Only being there he allowed himself to smile. The first time we saw him confident and even uncharacteristically beaming was at the end of "Solidarity" - when he did awake to the fact that this new world was now in his hands.
Sensitive and lonely, he's had no illusions: he didn't expect from all the adults any good but real and figurative blows, and it was reflected in his body language. To survive he had to bristle up like a hedgehog. So in his interactions he was easily becoming nervous and pointedly aggressive (and his trademark quick "clipped" delivery of lines served well to show that). His very varying facial expressions frequently reflected his disgust to all those who consistently let him down. By the contrast (key word for this interpretation) in his other world he was the smoothest dancer with the utmost grace who literally radiated beauty (that's why in technical terms his "Electricity" could be only classics - no street dance and the very minimum of acrobatics).
The highlight of his show was undoubtedly "Letter reprise". (Billy: “Bye mum, see you soon?” Dead Mum: “No, I don't think so, do you?”) That was a sign that there was no imaginary world for him anymore, and he must live in different (the Royal Ballet School) but real world. For this particular Billy that did not look as an easy prospect for happy life. Not surprising that some spectators continue to be worrying for him - emotionally there was no happy end.
Such an interpretation could easily become melodramatic. However, his pointedly understated and very natural acting did prevent that. Olly normally didn't cry on the stage (his Last Night was a special occasion - I wouldn't repeat those 5,000 words I wrote about it) but many people in the audience did. That's why he probably got more highly personal, affectionate, and arguing with each other reviews than any other Billy (at least during my lifetime at the Forum) - some sensitive people left his challenging show (depicting a metaphysical rather than social-political discontent with society and self) being not only uplifted (his "Finale" was as celebratory as anyone's) but also disturbed...
Corey Snide & Oliver Taylor (photos by Dancer and Den from BETM Forum)
2. A Tale of two Billys: Corey Snide & Olly Taylor
VaRus wrote (Posted: Sat Jul 12, 2008 11:50 pm):
Corey Snide's Last Night on 5 July was the most magnificent show in many respects. In terms of this thread, I have to say it was perceived by me as quite "conceptual". I am not sure that my interpretation of Corey's portrayal is original - actually it is similar to the ones one can find above in this thread "Billys are different... What's exacty different about them?". But I will try to characterize it in comparison with Oliver Taylor's portrayal. It makes sense since for me their interpretations are at opposite poles. So here is my very subjective (and simplistic) Tale of Two Billys.
To begin with, I believe that Last Nights - being because of the farewell specifics more crisp and showy - magnify those basic features which might look not so articulated in regular shows. Thus, no wonder that Olly's memorable Last Night was so utterly heart-wrenching for everybody in the house (and I, for one, sitting there was remembering that definitive Dostoevsky's sentiment "The whole world is not worth a single tear of a child") - he, probably inadvertently, was testing to the limits his radical interpretation of Billy's character as a somewhat hopeless fight of a complicated talented boy against not only that unsympathetic world but his inner demons too. Corey's Last Night was completely different. Contrary to some Forum members' impressions I did not see many tears from the audience. Of course as the story was the same there were some tears shed in all the appropriate touching moments. However the prevailing emotions were joy and admiration of the great winning talent throughout, and these highly positive emotions were not derivative from show's multifaceted fabric (as in Olly's case) but the very essence of it. Chris-Tony's little gig (in the farewell scene with Billy) when he'd pulled out from his pocket his two fingers symbolizing that "V" figure has just inadvertently summed it all up.
So in distinction with psychologically and emotionally convoluted Olly's portrayal, the essence of Corey's interpretation looked pretty straightforward: it's a pure and simple celebration of power of an optimistic talent. To make connections with some generic stereotypes (which I always tend to do) I am going even further in my schematic formulation: I would say that Corey's was a very American interpretation in its spirit - his Billy'd found that he possessed a talent and had a dream, then he just fulfilled that dream overcoming all the difficulties with that trademark smile and humour, shining all the way through and enlightening everything and everybody around him - including the public. No wonder that with such a showy and uplifting portrayal he became so popular and loved by everyone!
Of course, all the trials and tribulations built into the story were there but they didn't mean that much as in Olly's Billy case. The latter was not able to adapt to the harsh surrounding and needed an escapist world; Corey's Billy didn't even think about "adapting", leave alone fighting - quite opposite, he somehow just knew that he's destined to win and at the end that hostile world itself had to adapt to him because it's just impossible to resist his talent, energy and charms! Being a spectator and therefore a witness of that Billy's unstoppable journey I was not worrying about him and his future - I just observed him with admiration. No heavy and controversial feelings at all which I've had in plenty in Olly's case (no Dostoevsky - maybe Mark Twain with his ever optimistic Huck Finn).
Probably, calling (NYer) Corey's "an American Billy" is not exactly a revelation. So let me stir up a bit of controversy - this means that poor Olly with his portrayal will have to endure another round of unfortunate associations at my hands (probably, for the last time). I would've gone quite far (to Far East, actually) and made connections with samurai culture famous for its outrageous blend of beauty, melancholy and aggression (remember the title of that classic anthropological book about Japan "The Chrysanthemum and The Sword" expressing that idea so graphically?) but it would've been too much even for me. But once I've already had Dostoevsky-ish allusions here (not mentioning "Swan Lake" connection which is always in the place) I cannot help myself but to attach to Olly's portrayal the "Russian" label. Those who read some Russian classics describing a quintessential young Russian man (Leo Tolstoy's autobiographical novels Childhood, Boyhood, and Youth, for instance) will easily recognize a familiar romantic silhouette set against the realistic background. Or - if one needs not literary but a real fate without going far from BETM - just remember Petr Tchaikovsky's life.
I can even imagine how "the Russian Billy" would've asked his American counterpart those "eternal Russian questions": "we are equally talented and hard-working; so why on earth you are so optimistic, happy and destined to be successful - while I'm self-conscious, confused, sad and suffering from my own inner demons? Why I'm not thinking about a happy life and success but just want to escape from the severe reality?". After such the erotesis Russian people usually start to remember the titles of two other classical novels - "Who is to blame?" and "What shall we do?" - but never know the answers. Well, perhaps it is quite artificial on my part to put those Russian doomed questions rooted so deep into the ground of the national character on shoulders of a young dancing boy (be he a character or a performer). But that's the direction where I was lead by this Tale of Two Billys and Two Talented Performers with Very Distinctive In-div-id-u-al-iti-es who did manage to express both themselves and underlying concepts of the BE story so powerfully.
3. Tom Holland: 30 May 2009 show (Posted: Sun May 31, 2009 8:23 pm)
I thought I'd resigned from BETM related writing having said everything I could about both the show and that particular former Billy who epitomised it for me. I am out of my retirement because one and half a year later (and six other Billys later - all brilliant but somehow observed by me from some emotional distance) I managed to see another extraordinary Billy who struck a chord with me. It was last Saturday's evening show, and Tom was at the helm. Now I am trying to understand why.
(photos: from the official poster and by Pucka from BETM Forum)
He is completely different from that psychologically and emotionally complex Billy - his is light-hearted extrovert, ever optimistic, projecting straightforward but genuine emotions. There is a well-known IT idiom - WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get). In this case we've got WHFIWYG (What He Feels Is What You Get). He shows a wide gamut of emotions, he is always natural and faithful to the very core of that very individual character and, most importantly, he's extremely successful in conveying those feelings and emotions to the audience which feel overwhelmed. Successful to the perfection - I cannot imagine that particular type of Billy the character played more effectively: this little whirlwind easily creates such deep emotional funnels that the spectators fall in it up to the hilt, and are very happy with it.
So how does he achieve it? Of course, his teachers and directors know how to tune the show to the talents and skills of the particular performer. They devised suitable for him numbers and put him into comprehensive training. I suppose they can teach a gifted child how to do some exquisite dance movements or how to correctly breathe while singing. I can even understand how he was cleverly helped by his directors in building up the dynamics of this individual Billy the character slowly unfolding with the development of his story.
But how do they teach him to maintain that kind of concentration to be in the character every minute of the show (even when he is in the background of the action)? That concentration was peaked to the extreme at the striking scenes like "The letter" with its amazing open sadness (I didn't see such flood of tears from people around me since 1 Dec 2007 famous night), "Anger Dance" with its most intense rage ever seen by me or "Electricity" with its ultimate delight. The most amazing thing that is beyond my comprehension because it is by definition the skills of a mature actor: how he manages to be faithful to the character in every small gesture, in every intonation, how he knows when to be loud or quiet, when to make a pause of the perfect duration and when to punctuate some continuous lines or movements with some sharp verbal or gestural exclamation marks which allows the spectators to perceive the meaningful (small but pivotal) points of the scene. Perhaps, some kids are just born with Stanislavski's system built in their DNA, and all they need is to be lucky to have an opportunity to ignite that peacefully sleeping inside them "system".
As his DNA mentioned... A few days ago Dominic Holland, being on the panel of Channel Five's "The Wright Stuff", said (wearing at that moment, quite appropriately, a pink tutu which he was forced to put on after considerable resistance): "My son dances professionally". The problem is his son seems to do (already, at his age) everything professionally. The problem, I mean, for the industry in some years ahead: he - along, perhaps, with some other Billys - will grow up and being not a just jack but a master of all artistic trades will be able to do the entire "variety" show on his own. Maybe it can result in appearing a brand new story about a boy aspiring to be a miner while his entire showbiz family (struggling within that severely deprived Northern West End area) went - under the threat of redundancy because of that new wave of talents - on strike and clashed with art police (of all those critics, forum writers, etc.)...
OK, these apocalyptic predictions went, probably, in wrong direction (not saying about wrong English which, I am sure, is evident in these hastily constructed lines)... Well, it's already 1 June in Moscow. So: Happy birthday, Tom!
4. Brad Wilson (Posted: Sun Sep 20, 2009 9:59 pm)
When I first saw Brad in the beginning of his Billy's tenure, I was impressed but not completey satisfied. He was a very young gentle boy with wide open eyes. There was a distinctive feeling of an sympathetic childish immediacy in that portrayal, and I found that a rather fresh interpretation. However, that definitive gentleness bordered with uncertainty in terms of Billy's character: it felt inconclusive - it was difficult for me to project that particular Billy to a wider world beyond the immediate confines of the story (which I always like to do). Using formulaic language: I tried to conceptualise Brad's interpretation (as I did in the past with some other Billys) but was not able to see enough pivotal points to do that.
(Photos from the official Poster and promotion video)
Well, nine months later Justin's writings appeared here, and it occurred to me that I probably was missing something... So I went to see him again - and yes, I was surprised. I've got more than I hoped. It looked like the definitive cristallization of his portrayal was successfully completed, and now all the ingredients of a properly conceptual story were in their place (or it was my mind where that cristallization - in the spirit of Stendhal's concept - had been developed during those 9 months?). That inconlusiveness had gone: now I felt I knew who that particular Billy was and what was his place in the world. What is strange: it is not easy to put these my feelings into the words, and this time it's not my poor English to blame (and even Ellen would hardly help). There is something elusive about that interpretation. Some subtlety that resists to be reduced to formulations. So I will try to put my feelings into words very carefully - in a sense, in the spirit of this portrayal...
First, the childish flavour became less noticeable. He is not that young kid anymore - he quietly but confidently manifests a maturity. It seems that this non-showy, even obscure, maturity stems from his intelligence, or even from wisdom, which is rather unheralded in the customary context of BE: normally Billy is driven by his great talent fo dance and overwhelming urge to be fulfilled, and reflections haven't been high on his agenda.
Mature kid is a rather contradictory formula. He knows what's going on around him, he intuitively understands other people' feelings and he cares about them. He sometimes behaves more reasonably than some adults! But in much wisdom is much grief, especially in his age. He has that countenance more in sorrow than in anger (yes, a strange, although light, touch on Hamlet's motif!) - even in Angry Dance which is not typical for the desperate lad who was just let down by all the adults. As the story's progressing to its supposedly happy ending, rather paradoxically he that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow. Actually, the poignancy of this interpretation is that he is not emotionally mature yet. In other words, he is not a cynic - he didn't learn to care less, and this tears him apart in some situations as his emotions, which he cannot hide, get better of him. And then the audience cry with him in unison.
However, no need to dramatise his story: he is a gentle, even melancholic, fellow, his sorrow is light, if not elegiac - not depressing ("I feel at ease and sad; there's a radiance in my sighs... My melancholy Is untouched by torment or distraction" - this Pushkin's poem is studied by any Russian Billy in school!). it is expressed by smal gestures, touches, glances, pauses - not through uncontrollable bursts. Overall he conveys good feelings throughout. The key attribute here is his elegance. It is not just grace of his dancing which literally melts the hearts, especially in Dream Ballet. This is his internal - inherent, intrinsic - elegance which is apparent even in trivial daily situations. Perhaps, it is that restrained and paradoxical for his upbringing courtliness that somehow blurs the extremes of those conflicting realities in which he has to live, and makes him actually a pretty normal lad (in terms of modern sophisticated "normality" that relates to the present public of 2009), and it is that understated normality that gives that portrayal a flavour of a genuine originality - just because the world around him is not normal at all. This unassuming, intelligent, subtle Billy somehow manages to be at home in both worlds - in that down to earth with doomed mining, strikes and grim life, and in that of sublime dancing. It is he who naturally merge them.
So Brad's portrayal looks very original for me. With whom can one compare him? Maybe he is a cross between two former great Billys who for me were on the extreme ends of conceivable characterisation - Corey and Oliver. However, the formula is far from a simple interpolation, and it is hardly possible to express it in words, let alone in math symbols. Anybody prepared to invest into a research grant to properly explore this topical subject?
Well, being a self-proclaimed "last nights specialist", I am looking forward to Brad's final show. Should be genuinely gripping!