The people that work in high arts are a funny bunch: Every so often someone will create something that they believe the general population, their intended audience as they seek to reach out to transform into regular arts-goers, can’t fathom why they even bothered: Miss Fortune, the first opera to incorporate b-boying (breakdancing) in an opera production at the Royal Opera House falls into that category.
The story of the titular Miss Fortune is about a daughter of wealthy parents who is determined to go it alone in a mysterious city after losing all her wealth when their yacht sinks. With nothing but the clothes on her back she has to make her way through a city inhabited by underclass Soul Mavericks dancers.
Forced to look for work in a factory to make a living, where ever she goes Miss Fortune is always followed by Fate and his Soul Mavericks minions who always manages to catch up with her (get it??).
Miss Fortune is the sort of production that someone builds and expects people to come to because of its gimmicks. How did the gimmick of putting b-boys in an opera work out? Like so: “It’s awfully clever!” is overheard in the lobby during the interval: “The breakdancers reference last summer’s riots.” No they don’t. But the connotations picked up by Royal Opera House’s core audience shows how disconnected from the real world they are and how Miss Fortune panders to the Middle England manifesto – these are probably the sort that activate their central locking when driving through Brixton.
Read the Miss Fortune casting call on our blog and leave a comment: Is Miss Fortune bboy casting call for Royal Opera House a little bit racial?
In a bid to draw in more punters the opera included a kebab van (a set piece used in the show) to serve guests hotdogs, and the producers even made the crews auditioning for the production to battle to make it legit, although the whole thing doesn’t seem to work.
Instead of reflecting a distorted view of the riots (for one, the original Italian Sfortuna opera upon which Miss Fortune wasn’t set round these parts, or in modern times) it becomes an ‘us’ and ‘them’ urban opera, which will polarise its intended audience.
Miss Fortune appears to have sold itself on superlatives: Ran Arthur Braun, choreographer for the show, claims that a new genre of breaking been had created called “power dancing,” (a mixture of breaking with gymnastics and martial art and acting). Watching power dancing in action reveals that no, it hadn’t, this was just b-boy choreography over operatics, better described as “toprock a capella” than something it’s not.
Poor stage direction really undersells what was supposed to be the centrepiece of the opera behind the leading lady: Soul Mavericks effectively ‘starred’ as the stage hands helping move props on and off stage and occasionally kicking something. Who cares about the dancing when there isn’t a lot at all?
This isn’t the end of classic versus urban dance fusions making its way into opera venues in the UK: We have Flawless and the English National Ballet to look forward to. Promising stuff, but Miss Fortune as a start to this emerging trend was a weak start. If Miss Fortune was intended to be an emotional joyride into the world of opera for some it failed to do that, with this reviewer almost drifting off before the interval. A pot holed storyline and characters that lack depth deepen the damage of this modern retelling.
Like those in the higher tax bracket will never understand street dancing, nor shall street dancers grasp opera. So let the rich in their ivory towers laugh down at us, with a clash of cultures with conservative criticisms, we don’t care! The misfortune with this is you’ll have an empty wallet after thinking it might appeal to you.
Soul Mavericks dancers: Abdul Ali, Eugene Fong, Anthony Jackson, Simon Lee, Ashley Patricks and Benji Shogbulo.