Pros: Superb musicianship and talented dancers give the production extra edge.
Cons: Dancers were used too sparingly and left the jazz ensemble looking very bare on occasion.
Sadler’s Wells glistened with its usual shine as it played host to the 2nd Buta Festival of Azerbaijani Arts. The programme was full of information on the country’s culture, tradition and history. even providing a glossary of key phrases in the country’s language: Ha and yokh meaning ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and koshbakht meaning ‘happy’. Strangely, no mention was made of the greatest Azerbaijani ever to have lived; Tofiq Bahramov, linesman in the 1966 World Cup Final who said ‘Yes’ or should I say ‘Ha’ to Geoff Hurst’s effort, wisely judging the ball over the line. But enough frippery, on with the show.
Proceedings kicked off with two principal dancers, Honji Wang and Akram Khan performing to the music of a jazz trio, comprising Shahin Novrasli on piano; Nathan Peck on double bass and Ari Hoenig on drums. Musicians and dancers were collectively stunning, but when Wang and Khan left the stage the performance seemed to mutate into a straight jazz concert. That in itself is no bad thing, but musicians playing jazz will often go on a journey of self-expression, where they totally forget the tune they are supposed to be playing. This can be frustrating for the audience even if the musicians have a great time playing it (10 minute piano solo anyone?). There’s no doubting the players’ ability and they are clearly outstanding on their respective instruments, but there was an alarming lack of colour and dimension in the pieces; the dancers only appeared sporadically which robbed the performance a vital degree of variety.
The jazz trio were shortly joined by Shahin’s brothers Arslan and Nurlan on Tar and Khanende respectively. This was the closest the performance got to showcasing Azerbaijani art, but their contributions were restricted and reduced to lounging on cushions when they weren’t needed on certain songs. This gave the impression of a spare wheel when ethnic influences should have been an integral part of the performance. When they did join in, the sound was vaguely Eastern European but didn’t leave an indelible mark of a specific nation’s art. The performers were nonetheless excellent and I could never be overly critical of any one with real talent. The feeling still nags that it never became what it was meant to be; a celebration and exploration of Azerbaijani art. But I would have to say I was on whole, koshbakht by the end of the performance.
Producer: Farooq Chaudhry
This production has completed its run, but the Buta Festival continues until 22 March.