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Triple Bill at Royal Opera House 13/11/2008Wayne McGregor's new ballet "Intra"


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#1 leonid17

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Posted 14 November 2008 - 02:36 PM

In London I pay twice for my tickets to see a Royal Ballet triple bill. Once for my top price ticket at £55.00 and secondly through my income tax a portion of which subsidies the company through our governments Arts Council grant to the Royal Opera House. This does mean, I have two reasons to complain when the Royal Ballet produces a triple bill of "Voluntaries", "The Lesson", and a new Wayne McGregor ballet “Infra”, that causes the public to
stay away in droves and prompts hasty telephone calls to members of the company, offering them complimentary tickets for a premiere. It still left very many seats empty. Someone should have advised the board that their marketing may try to make the Royal Ballet “sexy”, but if it doesn’t appeal, the answer is to give the regular audience what it wants ie Ashton, MacMillan and Cranko one act ballets many of which have been a long time out of the repertory. There is a received wisdom within the government that we must encourage young people to attend the ballet. That is laudable, but it has been my long experience attending the ballet and a sometime producer of events, that the young people who find their own way to the ballet, do not just go to first nights but see the same programme more than once. When you sex up a dance work to get media coverage, the vast majority of young people will attend once and once only because young people see ‘events’ as ephemeral and move onto the next 'sexed up’ event.

Two years ago a headline in the UK Guardian newspaper read “Experiment or face slow death: star warns of crisis in ballet “Acosta points to lack of young choreographers and new full-length works…..

I do not hold Carols Acosta responsible for what followed and follow it did, Wayne McGregor of Random Dance, was appointed Resident Choreographer to the Royal Ballet.

Mr McGregor’s first work for the company was, “Chroma” and his second performed last night confirmed for me personally that he does not work with an original voice that would separate him from others that make works for a theatre.

First things first, the company performed “Infra” very well and Eric Underwood stood out giving an exceptional performance and receiving the loudest cheers.

For me “Infra” is extremely old-fashioned in as much as I feel the dance vocabulary used and the choreographic style was already well established 25 years ago by the likes
of Merce Cunningham, Rudi van Dantzig, John Butler, Glen Tetley, Toer van Schayk etc in their various highly talented ways.

The programme gives the definition of ‘Infra’ to be,

“below,esp.when used in referring to part of a text
see below
Below; underneath; under; after

And further states

At any rate it is important to imagine a language in which our concept ‘knowledge’ does not exist.
Ludwig Wittgenstein: On Certainty

There is then quoted from T.S.Eliot’s ‘The Waste Land’

Unreal City,
Under the brown fog of a winter dawn.
A crowd flowed over London Bridge so many,
I had not thought death had undone so many.

It would appear that the Royal Opera House programme uses the above quotes perhaps chosen by Mr McGregor, as necessary supporting twaddle for a ballet whose authority they are not sure of , a David Gamez quote is also given which I cannot bring myself to post. If a ballet or stage work using movement cannot speak to an audience on its own terms it has failed -full stop-. It is a frequent error in so called modern dance that an explanation of where a work, "is coming from" is necessary when it should just stand on its own values. Nobody needs to be shown how a famous painting, famous piece of music or a famous ballet originated, Get real.
Infra follows the well worn formula of similar works with people walking, moving as if dancing singly, duets, quartets, in groups and he entire ensemble.music is by Max Richter known from his work as a distinguished musician member of “Piano Circus” and is a composer. There is also “Sound Design” by Chris Ekers who had obviously escaped for a short time from the movies. The music and sound I found absolutely acceptable for a stage work and supported without intruding or distracting one from the dancers. Throughout “Infra”, there is brilliant lit animated projection high up on a backdrop of human like figures walking across what may be a bridge so echoing T.S.Eliot’s deeply felt poem. I think not.

The designer for the costumes was Moritz Junge looking to me personally, very like cut down or cut up T shirts and shorts.

Infra for me exhibited marketing over content.

I am sure Mr. McGregor may one day produce something I find of suitable quality for the Royal Ballet and I am sure there is something better to come from someone who looks such a nice chap in the curtain calls that a wider Royal Opera House audience will enjoy and bottoms will be on seats that have been paid for.

The Lesson was given a very good performance with Johan Kobborg, Roberta Marquez and Laura Morera. It is a favourite work of mine since I first saw it on television in 1963 when it was thought a little shocking. Perhaps dance teachers should show it to irritating mothers who insist their daughter is the next Pavlova, to get rid of them and their child from their studio.

I first saw Voluntaries shortly after its premiere in Stuttgart and was moved by the intensity of the performance by its starry cast. It is a work that has been performed right around the world by good number of companies. Last night it was led by Marienella Nunez and Rupert Pennefather, Mara Galeazzi, Sergei Polunin and Thiago Soares. It may have been performed well, but it didn’t move me and in the end that is what counts.

PS Mr McGregor dedicated "Infra" to Dame Monica Mason’s celebration of 50 years with the Royal Ballet.


AMENDED

#2 Bella12

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Posted 14 November 2008 - 03:45 PM

Just a small point - the name of the ballet is 'Infra' rather than 'Intra'.

#3 leonid17

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Posted 14 November 2008 - 04:04 PM

Just a small point - the name of the ballet is 'Infra' rather than 'Intra'.

Thanks. I typed it incorrectly once and it stayed with me for the next half a dozen times.
If you saw the performance, please post. I need company from other RB followers.

#4 Drew

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Posted 15 November 2008 - 11:43 PM

Leonid -- Just writing to say I really enjoy and appreciate your reporting on the RB performances this season.

#5 Bella12

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Posted 16 November 2008 - 02:30 AM

"First things first, the company performed “Infra” very well and Eric Underwood stood out giving an exceptional performance and receiving the loudest cheers."

This is something we can agree on. The performances were superb and I would add the names of Ed Watson, Lauren Cuthbertson and Ricardo Cervera to the list of outstanding performers. I've now seen the work 3 times (the general rehearsal + the first two performances) and each time have found more to admire. It will be interesting to see how it transfers to the television screen. There will be a programme with rehearsal excerpts and a complete performance of the work next Saturday November 22nd at 7.10pm on UK television station BBC2.

#6 Alexandra

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Posted 16 November 2008 - 08:45 AM

Leonid, I wasn't there, but (especially after having read the reviews) THANK YOU :o

I do hope that other Londoners will post. We get a lot of new registrations from London, but few new posters from London. What did you think?

#7 leonid17

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 03:05 AM

"First things first, the company performed “Infra” very well and Eric Underwood stood out giving an exceptional performance and receiving the loudest cheers."

This is something we can agree on. The performances were superb and I would add the names of Ed Watson, Lauren Cuthbertson and Ricardo Cervera to the list of outstanding performers. I've now seen the work 3 times (the general rehearsal + the first two performances) and each time have found more to admire. It will be interesting to see how it transfers to the television screen. There will be a programme with rehearsal excerpts and a complete performance of the work next Saturday November 22nd at 7.10pm on UK television station BBC2.


The Royal Ballet is not a dance company and ballets that only border on the classical, have frequently had a poor follow up by audiences after their first night at the Opera House. The London audience expect to see ballet and not dance at the Royal Opera House unless like in the past it is a visit from the Graham company, but then they never sold well.
My concern is that despite offers in newspapers for reduced seat prices for this triple bill, there are more than 700 tickets (more than 100 at top price and 400 plus in the cheapest seats) unsold for tomorrow evenings performance of this programme.
I have been watching dance companies in London since the 60's and still watch certain dance companies that present 'authentic', original, gimmick free dance works.
I not only think McGregor commissions are an artistic step in the wrong direction for the Royal Ballet, the Royal ballet cannot afford to present them in the main auditorium.
The other two works on the programme have real claim to fame and I am sad that audiences will have been put off from seeing them by the presence of "Infra". I would also say that those critics that enthused over this ballet, would I believe in their descriptions of 'Infra' also frightened off normal occasional balletgoers.

#8 GoCoyote!

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 02:30 PM

I wrote a comment with some general thoughts a few days ago and then decided not to post, now changing my mind again (wish I'd saved the draft!).

I have not seen 'Infra' and haven't booked to see it, I've only seen a clip of rehearsal footage and interview. I have seen Chroma several times as well as most, if not all, of the RB's new works on the Main Stage over the last 8 years or so and many of the smaller space works (Linbury, Clore) including the 'First Drafts' evenings etc.

So I can't comment on 'Infra' directly. But generally I agree with much of what Leonid says. The RB is first and foremost a large, world class ballet company based in a large high tech theatre (stage, lighting, sets, costumes, wigs...) and with live orchestra. Each of these aspects is rare on its own and therefore one might think 'precious' ie of great value as audience pulling components. When all combined they are even more so. They are the reason people go and see 'worn out old classics' :wink: often with, let's face it 'questionable or slightly absurd narrative content' and yet are utterly transported, genuinely moved, and in many cases utterly hooked. Therefore it seems more than a little 'odd' that a resident choreographer was chosen for the RB who likes nothing better than to either subvert, substitute or simply disregard altogether these various 'audience attracting' component parts - not least the style and technique of ballet itself!

As one reviewer in a piece about 'Infra' put it (not an exact quote): Wayne McGregor benefits from the RB more than the RB benefits from Wayne McGregor.

To me that sums up his position perfectly. World class dancers with such ballet technique, artistry, line and not forgetting 'ten past six' extension of course can make changing a car tire, shopping in the supermarket, jumping around the kitchen with the radio on a truly breathtaking spectacle for any ordinary, mortal person watching. They can certainly make all kinds of modern choreography into something we can all appreciate as unique, 'a sight to behold' or whatever. But is that enough? Is that their (main) job description?

If the RB had two resident choreographers - one modern based and one ballet based - then it might seem less odd. Also true if the RB was having 1, 2 or 3 act narrative or abstract classical ballets made for it it... ever. With all the sugary buzz about ballets like 'Chroma' and now 'Infra' I tend to feel that no matter how good they may or may not be they will always be under achievements compared to what the RB and ultimately ROH as a whole are capable of delivering. And the moment we as an audience or they as directors and choreographers and (let's not even go there) the dancers lose sight of that potential it will no longer exist. And it doesn't matter how frenetic, frenzied or futuristic the choreography is or how many walls you cover with video screens (being flippant here I know! :thanks: but serious point coming up>>> ) it won't ever make up for the loss of a full sized ballet company - because that is what it will amount to.

I mean can you imagine a decent new ballet with proper, 'daringly specific' story lines (gasp!) and human drama (gasp again!) maybe stories about real humans or real or lifelike events (room spinning!) with an original orchestral score (weak at the knees!) real sets and costumes and no gimmicky video screens/ projections (spots in front of my eyes!) with as much inventive, modern choreography as you like but not leaving out real classical or not-too-far-from-classical ballet, proper use of corps, and real acting (on the floor, out cold!)...... Aren't these the sort of things that a resident choreographer at the RB of all companies should at least have some interest in?

Wasn't one of the goals of the whole refurbishment with its new smaller, safer, performance spaces supposed to be that it would allow for the development of such choreographers and works, all conveniently bubbling up within the ROH building itself (where dancer's rehearsal time and energy is so precious) and then being able to be presented in various forms in smaller spaces with the best transferring to the Main Stage? No disrespect to WM but how does he, and what has been happening dance wise at the ROH since his arrival, fit into this?

His appointment is clearly evidence of some kind of strategy. Just as long as the strategy isn't 'turning a world class ballet company and theatre space into a kind of corporate sponsored vehicle for trendy multimedia/ technology fairs posing as modern art events designed to flatter, impress and overload the senses of impressionable young and slightly out of touch older audiences alike, with modern dance 'acroballet' taking centre stage backed up by a dwindling back catalogue of quaint historic ballets thrown in for good measure' ... because that, I'm sure everyone would agree, would be a tragedy.

Another observation I have made is that ballet goers tend to be, of all 'typical' theatre audiences, perhaps the most forgiving. They tend to want a production to work, to be a success. They want to find meaning and emotion. And by making generally vague, even if visually striking, choreography and then giving, sometimes almost in list form, a number of themes and meanings in the programs it is inevitable the audience is able to consciously or subconsciously look for and find connections. One feels sometimes the audience's earnest nature is being rather exploited. In fact sometimes it is as if the sets and choreography on stage are doing little but merely referring to the meanings and ideas present in the text in the programs - not the other way around as it should be!!!!

But hey, if the dancers looked fantastic who really notices these things or even cares if we are being tricked!? ..... I think audiences do notice and care ultimately .... and will not return more than once to see these kind of edgy, buzzy, fizzy, sugary but nutritionally lacking works, that is if they are even put on again more than once.

#9 leonid17

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Posted 18 November 2008 - 03:28 PM

I wrote a comment with some general thoughts a few days ago and then decided not to post, now changing my mind again (wish I'd saved the draft!).

I have not seen 'Infra' and haven't booked to see it, I've only seen a clip of rehearsal footage and interview. I have seen Chroma several times as well as most, if not all, of the RB's new works on the Main Stage over the last 8 years or so and many of the smaller space works (Linbury, Clore) including the 'First Drafts' evenings etc.

So I can't comment on 'Infra' directly. But generally I agree with much of what Leonid says. The RB is first and foremost a large, world class ballet company based in a large high tech theatre (stage, lighting, sets, costumes, wigs...) and with live orchestra. Each of these aspects is rare on its own and therefore one might think 'precious' ie of great value as audience pulling components. When all combined they are even more so. They are the reason people go and see 'worn out old classics' :wink: often with, let's face it 'questionable or slightly absurd narrative content' and yet are utterly transported, genuinely moved, and in many cases utterly hooked. Therefore it seems more than a little 'odd' that a resident choreographer was chosen for the RB who likes nothing better than to either subvert, substitute or simply disregard altogether these various 'audience attracting' component parts - not least the style and technique of ballet itself!

As one reviewer in a piece about 'Infra' put it (not an exact quote): Wayne McGregor benefits from the RB more than the RB benefits from Wayne McGregor.

To me that sums up his position perfectly. World class dancers with such ballet technique, artistry, line and not forgetting 'ten past six' extension of course can make changing a car tire, shopping in the supermarket, jumping around the kitchen with the radio on a truly breathtaking spectacle for any ordinary, mortal person watching. They can certainly make all kinds of modern choreography into something we can all appreciate as unique, 'a sight to behold' or whatever. But is that enough? Is that their (main) job description?

If the RB had two resident choreographers - one modern based and one ballet based - then it might seem less odd. Also true if the RB was having 1, 2 or 3 act narrative or abstract classical ballets made for it it... ever. With all the sugary buzz about ballets like 'Chroma' and now 'Infra' I tend to feel that no matter how good they may or may not be they will always be under achievements compared to what the RB and ultimately ROH as a whole are capable of delivering. And the moment we as an audience or they as directors and choreographers and (let's not even go there) the dancers lose sight of that potential it will no longer exist. And it doesn't matter how frenetic, frenzied or futuristic the choreography is or how many walls you cover with video screens (being flippant here I know! :thanks: but serious point coming up>>> ) it won't ever make up for the loss of a full sized ballet company - because that is what it will amount to.

I mean can you imagine a decent new ballet with proper, 'daringly specific' story lines (gasp!) and human drama (gasp again!) maybe stories about real humans or real or lifelike events (room spinning!) with an original orchestral score (weak at the knees!) real sets and costumes and no gimmicky video screens/ projections (spots in front of my eyes!) with as much inventive, modern choreography as you like but not leaving out real classical or not-too-far-from-classical ballet, proper use of corps, and real acting (on the floor, out cold!)...... Aren't these the sort of things that a resident choreographer at the RB of all companies should at least have some interest in?

Wasn't one of the goals of the whole refurbishment with its new smaller, safer, performance spaces supposed to be that it would allow for the development of such choreographers and works, all conveniently bubbling up within the ROH building itself (where dancer's rehearsal time and energy is so precious) and then being able to be presented in various forms in smaller spaces with the best transferring to the Main Stage? No disrespect to WM but how does he, and what has been happening dance wise at the ROH since his arrival, fit into this?

His appointment is clearly evidence of some kind of strategy. Just as long as the strategy isn't 'turning a world class ballet company and theatre space into a kind of corporate sponsored vehicle for trendy multimedia/ technology fairs posing as modern art events designed to flatter, impress and overload the senses of impressionable young and slightly out of touch older audiences alike, with modern dance 'acroballet' taking centre stage backed up by a dwindling back catalogue of quaint historic ballets thrown in for good measure' ... because that, I'm sure everyone would agree, would be a tragedy.

Another observation I have made is that ballet goers tend to be, of all 'typical' theatre audiences, perhaps the most forgiving. They tend to want a production to work, to be a success. They want to find meaning and emotion. And by making generally vague, even if visually striking, choreography and then giving, sometimes almost in list form, a number of themes and meanings in the programs it is inevitable the audience is able to consciously or subconsciously look for and find connections. One feels sometimes the audience's earnest nature is being rather exploited. In fact sometimes it is as if the sets and choreography on stage are doing little but merely referring to the meanings and ideas present in the text in the programs - not the other way around as it should be!!!!

But hey, if the dancers looked fantastic who really notices these things or even cares if we are being tricked!? ..... I think audiences do notice and care ultimately .... and will not return more than once to see these kind of edgy, buzzy, fizzy, sugary but nutritionally lacking works, that is if they are even put on again more than once.


I do not want to reduce what you wrote to a mere quote. As a sometime lone voice, it is very nice to hear a loud echo. Loved the way you expressed your feelings which conveys the sense of caring which appears absent from the Royal Ballets current thinking and repertoire planning. I am going to see "Infra" again tomorrow night as I would really hate someone to say you can't take it all in in one viewing.
Keep posting.

Regards
L


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