Monica Mason’s refusal to leave Covent Garden with a whimper has yielded one of the most visually arresting dance programmes of recent years. For, rather than mark her retirement – after 10 fruitful years as director of the Royal Ballet, and 54 years with the company in all — with a gala, she looked instead to the National Gallery, which is showing three Ovid-inspired mythological masterpieces by Titian, along with responses to them by a trio of leading contemporary artists.
The Evening Standard
From the first piece, Machina, onwards this was the Royal Ballet at its best. Although crowd-pleasers Carlos Acosta, Edward Watson, Leanne Benjamin and Tamara Rojo were all very nearly upstaged by sculptor Conrad Shawcross’s imposing giant robotm Acosta was a study in masculinity, while Watson’s precise, sinewy movements beautifully evoked mechanical grace.
Mark Wallinger’s set frames Trespass, by Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon, with handsome monochrome curves. Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Nehemiah Kish float through a sleek duet, unfolding limbs in delicate lines. A frieze of posing men is less successful, but Melissa Hamilton makes a poised, darting goddess. Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae wind into intricate, complex lifts. Mark Anthony-Turnage’s score goes from percussive drive to chiming intimacy.
Finally, Chris Ofili’s vibrant jungle designs and costumes plunge the narrative ballet Diana and Actaeon right into the heart of a Ballet Russes pastiche. A trio of choreographers working on individual sequences convey the story as Federico Bonelli’s Actaeon, smitten by the sight of a ‘naked’ Diana (Marianela Nunez) is seduced, transformed and abandoned by her to the dreadful fate of being torn apart by his own hounds. Jonathan Dove’s music, with sterling contributions from singers Kim Sheehan and Andrew Rees, incorporates the repeated motif of a hunting horn that often accompanies the pack of hounds, conjured by Ofili’s dog masks held at arms’ length rather than worn.