As One|Rushes – Fragments of a lost story|Infra
The Royal Ballet
February 19th 2010
As a First Artist with the Royal Ballet company, Jonathan Watkins choreographed his first ballet for the main Covent Garden stage boldly using his colleagues from all ranks – including Principals. They in turn relished the chance to have a new work made on them; no matter that the choreographer is in the corp.
His ballet, As One, highlights five snapshots of life in an urban setting, so the intriguing set, by Simon Daw, bursts open to reveal a kitchen and a house party way past midnight. James Wilkie stole the show outright, and the prize for the most unflattering costume (in a night of unflattering costumes) goes to Leanne Cope, dressed in a triangular orange and grey dress that did nothing for her, but full credit to Cope as it never distracted from her fabulous lines, sharp footwork and beaming smile. A sofa-dwelling channel surfing guy, Ed Watson, studiously ignores Laura Morera who tries and fails to get him to notice her. Morera is as fleet and frisky as ever, but to no avail.
At the start of Urban Youth, a line of sparkling white trainers descended in front of us. Homage to Craig David I wondered ? No, this is Shoefiti, which began in the US and is where a pair of trainers, with laces tied together, are thrown over telephone wires as a way of marking territory (other uses are available). Johannes Stepanek put feeling into his steps as a group of males dressed in orange (as were most of the dancers throughout), did their thing.
What are we waiting for? Had me watching the clock too; I’m sure this is a good concept for something but I’m unconvinced that it’s right for ballet. Many chairs arrived and the dancers often walked from one to another, with Kristen McNally despairing and unable to reach any of them. Do people usually move chairs a lot in a waiting room ? Whatever they were waiting for, I couldn’t wait for the final slice, Blinkered Living, where a somewhat typecast Steven McRae spun and leapt his way in front of the market trader video design backdrop by Simon Daw and Tim Reid. A lesser dancer would have been lost in front of the vast screens with rows of flickering numbers and in his orange suit he pirouetted fiendishly; McRae never shows the preparation before each step.
Overall I found the five slices of life more intriguing individually than either the start or close of the piece. There was nothing wrong with the opening, with Laura Morera on her own, nor the ending where all the slices of life come together through a vast picture frame, but I didn’t feel that Watkins’ optimistic sense of oneness at the end had, as yet, been fully developed. But full marks to him for bringing something new, and a story ballet at that, to the audience.
Rushes, literally tiny bits of film implying a very old story which only survives in fragments, is choreographed by Kim Brandstrup, and has morphed into a slightly gentler story than at its first showing, where I remember Carlos Acosta being far more brutal with his partners and the furniture.
The essence of the story is that the male character, danced this evening by Carlos Acosta, is flawed, fragile and sometimes violent as a result, and is forever chasing a woman (Laura Morera) who emphatically does not want him. This makes him angry and tension is in the air whenever the two are together. Every now and then we see another woman (Alina Cojocaru), who loves him even though he is oblivious.
Now I have two problems with this. First of all, if you want a credible story of rejection then don’t cast Acosta, for whom the very concept is anathema. He makes a good job of it of course, but I don’t sense that it is a feeling he has come into much contact with. Secondly, his hideous costume makes him look like a teacher, and he’s a dancer. Not just any dancer either. I had hoped for improvements in this department second time around but he is still dressed in loose trousers and a truly offensive two tone orange knitted jumper. Why ? His handstands into the splits on a chair and his sublime partnering skills are still as striking as ever, but there is no need to dress down the star.
Morera matches him in the pas de deux with its off-balance steps and endless configurations, and Cojocaru is ghostly in grey as she envelops Acosta without touching him physically or otherwise – her ethereal presence doesn’t even register with him. Fabulous to see her back. There are also twelve dancers who break up the rushes, and I particularly noticed Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani and Paul Kay in these sections – hard to do as there is a beaded curtain across the whole stage through which the main characters dip and dive.
Infra was the surprise of the night for me. I am not a fan of resident choreographer Wayne McGregor’s style, but with Infra the elements he weaves together are compelling to watch. There is no particular story in this last ballet, McGregor says it is just ‘about people’. This is the modern ballet which the Company took on tour to Cuba last summer, and you can see how the audiences there must have marvelled at the technique.
Utterly outstanding were Sarah Lamb and Ricardo Cervera; Lamb replacing Lauren Cuthbertson and turning the steps into a work of art, which she couldn’t have done without Cervera. Lamb has been out for a year with a serious injury (a broken foot) which could have been career-shattering, but I am delighted to say that she is back with a blast and exactly where she should be.
Julian Opie’s set designs, with his white pixel people walking above the dancers could have been a distraction were it not for these two masters.
Much has been said of Melissa Hamilton and in Infra she has found a role that makes the most of her physique. With Eric Underwood they make a striking partnership; both have great style and flexibility and complement each other – she is yin to his yang. Yuhui Choe also made her mark with very sharp footwork and great hands. The costumes were mostly body hugging black as favoured by the dancers, giving an overall effect of clarity and diamond precision.
With a triple bill there is almost always something to suit everyone. This bill has three, largely similar ballets, but there are subtleties which reward the audience and this time you won’t have to break the bank to see them.