Monday, November 27, 2017


Time for another triple bill from the Royal Ballet, they do come round with some regularity and I know there is another due in April.  Although these all had individual moments, they did not hang together as a whole.

On reflection the one I enjoyed most was Twyla Tharp's THE ILLUSTRATED "FAREWELL" which builds on an earlier ballet she choreographed in 1973 set to Haydn's 'Farewell' symphony.  That work was called AS TIME GOES BY but only used the final movements of the symphony; when invited to work for the Royal Ballet for the first time since 1995, Tharp leaped at the opportunity to choreograph the first two movements of 'Farewell' to flow into the older ballet.

The ballet was, for me, the most thrilling as the opening was danced by the marvellous partnership of Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb whose dancing flows and complements each other beautifully.  Gravity-defying leaps, standing pivots and intricate 'pop' movements that showed their effortless synchronicity well.  As well as being excellent dancers, they also convey real personalities and connect perfectly with the audience.

The older work is introduced soundlessly by the whirling, swirling Mayara Magri who is partnered by Joseph Sissons (who we saw as the tapping Mad Hatter in ALICE'S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND), and later groupings of five then ten dancers - with occasional appearances by Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb high above the stage, almost ghostly visions of the earlier music.  As I said, for the quality of pure dance, this was my favourite of the three.

Arthur Pita has only choreographed for the Royal Ballet's studio space so for his main stage debut he has gone for an "intimate epic" THE WIND.  Based in part on the original novel by Dorothy Scarborough and the Victor Sjostrom classic silent film which starred Lillian Gish, it certainly grabbed the attention but was over far too soon.  There was no character development and the plot climax was too garbled.  However I enjoyed it while I was watching it for Pita's stagecraft.

The ballet opened with the arresting image of billowing plastic sheeting blowing across the stage from massive jukebox-like fans which kept up the gale all through the act.  A ghostly-pale native American dances with and against the wind before ushering in the plot: young Letty arrives in a dust bowl western town - where the men are men and the sheep are frightened - and marries the taciturn and unemotional Lige. Letty was danced by the always extraordinary Natalya Osipova and she captured the uncertainty of a woman unable to fit into her environment.

Left alone by Lige, Letty is terrorized and later raped by the boo-worthy Wirt (the always-dependable Thomas Whitehead) and as she exacts her revenge on him, the constant howling wind finally snaps her grasp on reality and, watched by the mysterious figures of the native American and a bone-bleached frontier woman, walks into the howling night unafraid.

As I said, Osipova was enthralling as was Edward Watson as the ominous native American, but the piece was just far too short to get much involvement going and the large wind machines were just too modern and clunky for the period setting.  However special shout-out have to go to to the costumes by Yann Seabra which fluttered and whipped around in the constant gale and the lighting by Adam Silverman.

I certainly think I could take another chance to see THE WIND at some later date but hopefully they can find maybe 15 more minutes to allow for some engagement with the main role - maybe they could have trimmed some off Hofesh Shechter's interminable UNTOUCHABLE.  I am amazed it only ran 30 minutes, it seemed so much longer.  One cannot deny the talented 20 dancers onstage who moved in strict rhythm either en mass, as smaller groups or alone but, if truth be told, if I want to see a fascistic, militarist troupe go through their motions, I will watch Janet Jackson's video for RHYTHM NATION.

So there we are - one winner, one curiosity and one dud.  I don't suppose that's a bad batting average but I have seen more cohesive triple bills on the same stage, these three pieces simply didn't coalesce.  Maybe they need to roll the dice again and match them with other ballets?

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