THIS WEEK: A SELECTIVE GUIDE

DANCING, SINGING, WRITING, STRUTTING | June 17th 2008

Victor & Rolf

Special to MORE INTELLIGENT LIFE

Our guide to what's on around the world, compiled by Ariel Ramchandani and Jessica Gallucci

VIKTOR & ROLF HIT THE BARBICAN

London’s Barbican Centre may be a cultural power-house, but it’s hardly renowned for its fashion sense--certainly not in comparison with, say, the V&A. With its first exhibition devoted to a single label, however, the Barbican’s art gallery could not have displayed better taste. For 16 years, the cerebral Dutch designers Viktor & Rolf have been creating clothes (above) that walk the line between art and fashion--frustrating fashion editors and delighting the art world in equal measure--and have had pieces included in group exhibitions in America, Tokyo and Paris. The pair continually challenge what fashion is, and should be, with surreal runway shows that tend towards performance art--in their 1999 “Babushka” show, for example, they sent the model Maggie Rizer down the catwalk wearing ten different outfits, then painstakingly undressed her, Russian-doll style, in front of the audience. If that doesn’t whet the appetite enough, the radical architect Siebe Tettero--who designed Viktor & Rolf’s infamous upside-down shop in Milan--is helping stage the exhibition; the rumour is he’s building a giant doll’s house in which to show the clothes. Go play. ~MARY FELLOWES

THE HOUSE OF VICTOR & ROLF, through September 28th, Barbican Art Gallery, London

MIDWESTERN SENSIBILITIES

David Wroblewski wrote his debut novel, "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle", simply because he wanted to write a story he wished he could have read. Now readers and critics everywhere are reaping the benefits of this tale of a young, mute boy growing up in rural Northern Wisconsin, forced to flee into the wild after a family tragedy, with three of his beloved dogs as his only company. The writing is descriptive and true, and the voice pitch-perfect. Wroblewski's unexpectedly resonant material has been compared to the likes of "Hamlet" and "Watership Down"--it both speaks from and extends further than the reaches of the American Midwest (Elle called it "the Great American Novel"). Janet Maslin in the New York Times puts it well: "The reader who has no interest in dogs, boys or Oedipal conflicts of the north woods of Wisconsin will nonetheless find these things irresistible. Pick up this book and expect to feel very, very reluctant to put it down." You may find you needed this story as much as the author did. "The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is a boy and his dog story for grownups", wrote the author. "If I were looking for this book, the way I once did, that's all I would want to know." ~A.R.

"THE STORY OF EDGAR SAWTELLE", June 10th, ECCO

ONCE AGAIN, WITH WHIMSY

To American audiences, the modern dance troupe Pilobolus is best known for its collaborative shadow-puppetry--it has done car adverts and an insufferably cute performance at the 79th Oscar awards--but its members are good for more than their silhouettes. They are of an extraordinary breed of contemporary performer: more than dancers, they are athletes, contortionists and actors. This week, the American Dance Festival hosts the world premiere of the company’s collaboration with a master of traditional puppetry, Basil Twist. Four more Pilobolus pieces round out the programme, including two new works and a revival of “Nocturne”, a melancholy caricature of an ageing ballerina who mourns the death of her career. ~J.G.

PILOBOLUS, June 19th-21st, American Dance Festival, Durham

AS GOOD AS OLD

Hot off of its seven well-deserved Tony Awards, Lincoln Centre's sparkling revival of "South Pacific" proves that smart writing and direction can keep the past relevant. The classic Rodgers and Hammerstein 1949 musical, adapted from James A. Michener's novel about American troops stationed overseas during the second world war, shines as bright as a new penny while staying true to the original score and script. That the show can so easily entertain 2008 audiences highlights how daringly progressive the musical always was. Newsweek gushes over its "first-rate cast" and music "that so magically evokes both the exoticism and emotionalism of the story. 'South Pacific' is about the way we were--and the way we are, even now." The production is directed by the careful and prodigious Bartlett Sher, who recently directed "A Light in the Piazza", and features Paulo Szot and Kelli O'Hara, a rising star in musical theatre. The show remains as optimistic and American as blueberry pie. ~A.R.

"SOUTH PACIFIC", through January 2009, Lincoln Centre Theatre, New York

A MEXICAN

Nicholas Hytner’s new production of Verdi’s heretic-burning masterpiece “Don Carlo” for the Royal Opera sold out two months ago. The crowd-puller is the glorious Mexican lyric tenor Rolando Villazón, who made his name with multiple standing ovations for “Tales of Hoffman” at Covent Garden in 2004. The possible snag is that he has cancelled easier repertoire recently. Most tenors lock their doors when Don Carlo comes to town, and the role’s Wagnerian heft will certainly stretch Villazón. It’s not all about him, though: Simon Keenlyside, who sings Rodrigo, is a dead cert, and there is the winsome Marina Poplavskaya as Elisabetta. Beefier, more experienced sopranos have come a cropper during Elisabetta’s colossal Act V sing, but Poplavskaya’s goose-bump lyric soprano may surprise the non-believers. “It’s not size of role that is challenge,” Poplavskaya says. “It is finding something in her that people will like.” Very true: Elisabetta spends five hours being miserable while the plot-stirring firecracker Eboli (sung here by the mezzo Sonia Ganassi) gets great tunes for half the work. So—does Poplavskaya think Villazón will sing? “I am lighting candle every day,” she says. ~ROSIE JOHNSTON

"DON CARLO" through July 3rd, Royal Opera House, London