New Works in the Linbury
May 15th 2009
Royal Opera House
Imagine looking into a kaleidoscope; what you see refracted back at you is always different in colour, shape, size and texture, and so it is with an evening of new works. Only the colour was missing, of which more later. Some of these works have been honed in the smaller Clore Studio, giving the dancers the perfect recipe to create outstanding choreography.
Christopher Hampson was invited by Monica Mason, Director of The Royal Ballet, to choreograph a tribute to Norman Morris, a champion himself of new work & Hampson’s choreographic tutor at the Royal Ballet Upper School, and the resulting piece, called Dear Norman, is danced by Johan Kobborg and Sergei Polunin. Just three minutes long, the music is scored for solo cor anglais and speaks of loneliness, a theme present throughout the work. I thought of shadows and of uncertainty, following but also trying to find your own way.
Ludovic Ondiviela’s piece, Recordato, used recorded music by Michael England and the movements were bird-like. The costumes were grey, and of the 3 ladies, only Mara Galeazzi was on pointe. The pas de deux between Galeazzi and Bennet Gartside was beautiful & slow. Johannes Stepanek and Brian Maloney were both captivating to watch.
And so to the show-stopper – there has to be at least one. There was a collective intake of breath when Stephen McRae, dressed in white shirt and braces, sauntered on stage left & indicated with his hand to the violinist that he was ready to start his solo in Les Lutins, to Caprice (Wieniawski) and later La Ronde des Lutins (Bazzini).
The piece is choreographed by Johan Kobborg, who likes to have fun and keep things light, and it’s his own style with no noticeable outside influences. The supreme virtuosity of the furiously scampering chords of the violin sits perfectly with McRae who made it look sassy, carefree, sharp and witty. With his feet he can stroke the floor, caress it even, tap it and fire off a volley of steps so fast they blur into one. It is fiendishly fast footwork, jaw-droppingly spectacular in depth and scale, and funny. McRae’s interaction with Charlie Siem, the virtuoso violin player, is relaxed, easy, but imagine racing your bow as fast as you can across your violin strings and you have the measure of the pace which is anything but. Surely I saw smoke ? McRae spins four or five times and out of nowhere, when you think he might be done, throws in a split jete from nowhere and a standing start. Sergei Polunin adds competition of his own, with his high, multiple tours en l’air and his smiley face, but he can’t match McRae for speed or sharpness. And there’s something bewitching about the subtle inflections McRae squeezes from his hips which I’ve seen no other dancer do. Alina Cojocaru, dressed as the boys in trousers and braces, shows why we have missed her so much, with her light airy expressiveness and her exquisite hands. Eventually she too is caught in the silken web spun by the violin. All credit to Siem, who introduced each piece of music serenely and then tore up the stage with it. It was all too short – 7 minutes of heaven gone in a flash !
Yes We Did, by Kirsten McNally, to music by Aeron Copland, had an American core and unusual voiceover – Obama was in the house. Some of the musical interludes sounded to me as though light bulbs were blowing, and the lengthy crowd-cheering (as from a Chicago baseball match) were lost on me. Romany Pajdak stood out for me, making the most of the piece and having the most flattering costume.
Jonathan Watkins chose Balanescu’s No Time Before Time, performed live by The Tippett Quartet (Violin, Viola & Cello), for his piece called Now. Yuhui Choe had a beautiful solo, showing her softly expressive arms and hands to perfection. I found it to be a wistful piece with lilting violin and viola. Stepanek had a hand in the costume design and this time, they were more varied in shape and – stop the press – there was colour. Moody shades of blue through to pink and purple, fluty hemline for Choe, leotard and shorts flattering McRae the most.
Gary Avis is always hypnotic and in Non-linear Interactions his use of the space with his arms and hands caught my attention as did his leg lines. This piece is choreographed by Viacheslav Samodurov, and I found it strange and confusing, which I think was the choreographer’s intention. Galeazzi’s occasional & sudden slump into Munchs’ “The Scream” compounded my puzzlement, and there seemed to be a lot of arm waiting and pointing.
Liam Scarlett is shaping up brilliantly as a classical choreographer, and what a refreshing change to see a (mostly) classical piece to end with. This choreography is pure Scarlett; shaped by him into a unique shape and form, entirely his own. You can’t escape the odd flexed foot, but here the pas de deux between Tamara Rojo and Bennet Gartside, a rarely seen combination that worked very well, seemed to flow so seamlessly it was both tender and sad. Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera seemed physically joined together, such was the power of their pas de deux. Perhaps most enlightening of all was Leanne Cope matching Rojo step for step, given that they are at opposite ends of the spectrum in the ballet company hierarchy. Cope is a smidge softer and slower, but her musicality is spot on and she is compelling to watch. I hope for promotions to Cope and Pajdak at the end of this season. The piece is named after the music – Consolations and Liebestraum (Liszt Consolations 1,2,3 and 5, and Liebestraum no 3), with black (must they be always black ?) costumes designed by Scarle
tt. Kate Shipway on the piano brought the evening to a close with her elegant & engaging music.
New works can be tricky to stage; the audience at Covent Garden can be a conservative bunch, but the growing popularity of this event shows the depth of talent within the Company. I hope that in future the run of performances is lengthened and that the ticket prices better reflect the prestige of watching new works at close quarters and provide enough revenue to engage experts in costume design – it’s not the dancer’s forte, nor should it be, and it could add so much to a performance. The Opera House has an excellent costume department but even the inclusion of Marc by Marc Jacobs added nothing – in fact they were the most unflattering costumes of the night.
It can’t be easy mounting an evening of diverse new works, and I would have liked a better balance between the slow and the faster pieces. And please, can someone introduce some colour to the costumes next time ? I haven’t yet seen a new work where the costumes added anything to the piece; I know dancers love black but I think a performance needs to distinguish itself from a rehearsal with its costuming. Throughout the evening the stage was dimly lit (except for Les Lutins), by Simon Bennison, something we have come to expect on the main stage. But the Linbury Studio Theatre is already a darker place, and brightness could add flavour and texture to the composition. All the other ingredients are there & the programme is justifiably a resoundingly brilliant success.