Dancers – Meaghan Grance Hinkis, Laura Morera, Federico Bonelli, Claire Calvert, Olivia Cowley, Fumi Kaneko, Brian Maloney, Valentino Zucchetti, Tara Bhavnani, Claudia Dean, Nathalie Harrison, Elizabeth Harrod, Yasmine Naghdi, Sander Bloomaert, Donald Thom, Dawid Trzensimiech
Robert Clark (piano)
Liam Scarlett – Choreography & designs
Lowell Libermann – Music [Piano Concerto No.1]
John Hall – Lighting designs
Dancers – Camille Bracher, Francesca Hayward, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Fumi Kaneko, Sarah Lamb, Yasmine Naghdi, Tristan Dyer, James Hay, Brian Maloney, Ludovic Ondiviela, Johannes Stepanek, Dawid Trzensimiech
The Max Richter Quintet & Paul Stobart (piano)
Wayne McGregor – Choreography
Max Richter – Music
Julian Opie – Designs
Moritz Junge – Costumes
Lucy Carter – Lighting designs
Dancers – Leanne Benjamin, Marianela Nuñez, Yasmine Naghdi, Nehemiah Kish, Eric Underwood, Brian Maloney, Fernando Montaño, Claire Calvert, Valentino Zucchetti
Christopher Wheeldon – Choreography
Joby Talbot – Music
Narciso Rodriguez – Costumes
Penny Jacobus – Lighting designs
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler
Reviewed: 7 November, 2012
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
As a statement of intent from the new Director, the new Triple Bill from The Royal Ballet seems, on the surface, impressive: works from three, mostly young, living British choreographers. On the surface. Things look slightly less wonderful when one considers that they are all extant works – perhaps Kevin O’Hare was not minded to take the chance of something newly created – one of which, Infra, was created for the company, the remaining two being ‘imports’. There is nothing wrong with bringing in work by a house choreographer which he has created elsewhere, but it only really makes sense if they are ballets from great masters of the art form, such as Ashton and MacMillan, and/or works of towering importance, such as Song of the Earth and Requiem, which undoubtedly enrich the repertoire and without which the company would be all the poorer. With lesser choreographers, it can come across as a rather ‘safe’ approach to their work.
Best of the bunch is Liam Scarlett’s Viscera, created in January for Miami Ballet and showing a confident fusion of that company’s native Balanchinean attack with the suppleness and pliancy of the English School. A mid-Atlantic amalgam which has, at least, the very strong plus point of Lowell Liebermann’s punchy, gutsy 1983 Piano Concerto No.1, and played well by the Opera House orchestra and Robert Clark at the piano. A ‘classic’ three movement work, it shapes the ballet leading Scarlett down familiar lines of corps-based outer movements and a central pas de deux. In this, and in the highlighting of a solo female lead in those outer movements, the structure is not a million miles away from MacMillan’s own piano-led work Concerto (to be seen later this season). Scarlett is a fluent choreographer, with a musicality more natural than we have witnessed for many a decade. He fills the stage (bare, with a colour-changing backcloth – either claret or teal) with confidence, disposing of his forces with skill and effect. The young cast took to this work with enthusiasm, and their performance, while at times looking like a school’s graduation performance given the freshness of both the faces and bodies, was impressive. Meaghan Grace Hinkis was the female solo lead – a compact, soubrettish dancer, she attacked the considerable demands made upon her with glee. The eye was drawn to Valentino Zucchetti and Tristan Dyer, two young dancers who always give of their best and devour their choreography. At its centre, an exquisite pas de deux to Liebermann’s mysterious slow movement. It was given in a beautifully judged performance by Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli, who suffused their choreography with a narrative of meeting and parting, of tenderness and intimacy. The effect was hypnotic, and the pas de deux by far the most successful element of the entire evening.
Wayne MaGregor’s 2008 Infra is a clever-clever evocation of urban life set in front of Julian Opie’s screen of LED figures that walk back and forth high above the stage (a virtual London Bridge), it is, we are assured by the programme, ‘life-affirming’. The dancers go about their McGregorisms dressed in his favourite selection from the underwear catalogue, here supplied by Moritz Junge. The dancers are faultless, and set about their hip-dislocations, flicks and twitches with evident glee. The work is empty, predictable, dull, with dancing scarce – McGregor’s movements are earth-bound, obsessed with filling, albeit momentarily, the space around the dancers’ bodies. Pas de deux is undoubtedly athletic, sometimes almost pornographic, but delivered with the same blank facial expression as the rest. Perhaps that is urban life, perhaps it is meant to be blank and un-engaging. Max Richter’s music for solo piano and string quintet passes the time of day, but it is melded with electronic rumblings and what was, as far as could be discerned, the toot of a child’s toy train.
Christopher Wheeldon created Fool’s Paradise for his short-lived transatlantic company Morphoses. The ballet, like the company where it originated, comes and goes. It is attractively set – bare stage (half-hour intervals are so necessary) with artful lighting form above, pale costumes (the men are bare-chested) and, at times, golden petals fluttering down, and Joby Talbot has provided an easy-on-the-ear film score (an expanded version of his work for a silent 1916 Russian film The Dying Swan). Wheeldon choreographs cleverly and fluently, showing in the repeated use of a trio of two men and a woman on the bare stage the influence of Ashton’s Monotones II (to be seen later this season) and, MacMillan in his exploration of complicated lifts. But his work rarely, if ever, gets beyond a gentle simmer – the dancers cannot be faulted, not least the wondrous Leanne Benjamin (whom could poach an egg and one would surely marvel at) and the hugely promising Claire Calvert and young Zucchetti. It comes from too great a focus and interest in pose and too little in actual movement; some of the poses are exquisite, fascinating, ravishing, but all too often the movement quality which leads the dancers to them is pedestrian and unfocussed. A succession of tableaux vivants is offered, nowhere more so than in the sculptural construct involving the entire cast which closes the work, a 21st century version of all those figures tumbling down a rococo monument.
This present mixed bill is, ultimately, just that little bit dull. All three works possess a shiny modern gloss but none seems to have anything to say. There is no joie de danser and certainly no message; there is nothing blisteringly new nor anything emotionally draining; there are no feats of virtuosity nor moments of filigree exquisiteness. What we have are three 21st century ballets which are undoubtedly expertly delivered, clearly fun to dance, but not quite so wonderful to watch.