It's just over 2 years since we discovered through Wayne McGregor's wonderful WOOLF WORKS how the Royal Ballet are adept at contemporary as well as classical ballet and this has been demonstrated a few times by their scheduling of memorable triple bills based on choreographers or themes. So, Constant Reader, what can be better than a triple bill? A quadruple bill of course!
Last Saturday we took our amphitheatre seats for an evening of four one-act ballets, only one of which we had seen before. The first of the four was choreographer William Forsythe's THE VERTIGINOUS THRILL OF EXACTITUDE - the title is almost as long as the ballet itself being only 15 minutes!
Forsythe's choreography uses the majestic finale of Shubert's 9th Symphony and it's constant flurry of movement - using classic moves but with wonky angles and straggly arms and legs - must be a trial for the three female and two male dancers, all vividly colourful against a black background, the men in bright purple and the women in bright lime-green.
The dancers mix and merge, coming and going, dancing in groups, trios, duets and solos all at a frenetic pace - a bit too frenetic for Itziar Mendizabel who came racing from the wings into the middle of a group and went down on her tutu to an intake of breath from the audience. But she recovered well and found her way back into the music after a beat or two... well done Itziar.
After a pause we had Balanchine's cheeky TARANTELLA, a duet of great charm and character which allows it's male and female to really stamp personalities on the roles. Capering around the stage and around each other, Meaghan Grace Hinkis and Alexander Campbell were delightful.
Next was the first revival of Christopher Wheeldon's narrative ballet STRAPLESS which we first saw last year as part of a Wheeldon triple bill; in my blog for that production I hoped that it would be revived sometime but I didn't expect it to be so soon! Oddly enough, the jitters which might have explained Itziar's stumble in VERTIGINOUS THRILL... also affected STRAPLESS when, during the scenery change for the second act, one of the ballerinas positioning a panelled column for the Café L'Avenue set, pushed too hard and the column went BANG across the stage only for it to be dragged off ignominiously! The ballerina I hasten to add just wandered off and left it!
It has been slightly reworked to focus more on the main characters of Amélie Gautreau and John Singer Sergeant - the model and artist of the notorious MADAME X painting which scandalized Paris in 1884 - but again I felt that the story proves too elusive when reduced down to just ballet. But Lauren Cuthbertson captured the skittish society beauty Amélie very well and her haunting of her now-famous portrait remains a powerful moment; the modern-day gallery visitors blind to the real woman whose image they admire.
The last ballet was Liam Scarlett's new production SYMPHONIC DANCES based on Rachmaninoff's last composition. Written in 1940, the composer had asked Mikhail Fokine if he would be interested in using the music for a three-part ballet but Fokine's death in 1942 ended the possibility of it happening in Rachmaninoff's lifetime. Since then ballet productions have been mounted but Liam Scarlett's is the first in the UK.
STRAPLESS sits well with SYMPHONIC DANCES as it too is centred around the central figure of a statuesque diva, and for good reason... This season will be the last danced by Principal Ballerina Zenaida Yanowsky and Liam Scarlett in SYMPHONIC DANCES has choreographed a production in which she remains the centre of attention at all times.
Yanowsky looked every inch the diva in her opening costume, a strapless black bodice and huge, multi-layered skirt which became almost a character in itself as it whipped and swirled around her. Red and black also ruled in Jon Morrell's stage design, a stark and empty Opera House stage glowed with red lighting amidst the onstage mist while a large metal lighting grid hanging above the stage cast ominous black shadows beneath it.
The second part of the first movement featured Yanowsky seemingly unmoved by the sinuous capering of James Hay; in the second scene she reappeared in a black and red tuxedo while it was the turn of the men in the ensemble to wear the full skirts - indeed there was a noticeable wobble from one of the men proving that the Devil works in threes after the Itziar and column incidents.
The final movement saw the metal grid horizontal to the stage with Yanowsky losing the tuxedo to appear in just a bodysuit, this time duetting with Reece Clarke, before Rachmaninoff's dramatic, oppressive score built to a devastating climax. As Wayne McGregor says, an abstract ballet cannot help but have some sort of narrative because of the human element and Yanowsky and the ensemble made me think of an imperious Empress slowly thawing and allowing emotion into her life through her adoring acolytes.
Zenaida Yanowsky was cheered to the Opera House's Fabergé egg-like roof and rightly so; she was astonishingly powerful and totally in command of her stage; Laura Morera is playing the role too so it would be interesting to see it with another energy, another persona doing those moves.
All together, it was an evening of passionate performance and thrilling choreography. I am still wondering about those three errors however, could it be that this company - who were different from the opening night apart from Yanowsky - had been under-rehearsed? Ah well, I suppose it goes to show that they are human underneath all that well-drilled skill.