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Royal Ballet Quadruple Bill


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I've just discovered this message board and I'm really looking forward to discussing dance with people here. I'm relatively young (18) but spend far too much time at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. I was at the opening night of the latest Royal Ballet Quad Bill, including Wheeldon's new work and I thought I'd post that here ...

If a thematic theme runs through this quadruple bill from the Royal Ballet then I am totally at a loss as to what it is. Perhaps Wheeldon's new "Electric Counterpoint" might vaguely relate to "Afternoon of a Faun" both, at least on some level, look at how dancer's see themselves. "Tzigane" (a new aquisition of no particular merit) and "A Month in the Country" carry none of this meaning. This makes the production a far more accessible evening than the last Royal Ballet triple bill, which was a little of the heavy side. A wide range of styles are on show but it lacks the cohesion that could be present.

The excitement largely centred on the world premiere from Christopher Wheeldon, "Electric Counterpoint". A fusion of live dancers with projected recordings of them, it walked a fine line between substance and gimmick. The piece divided into two distinct halves. The first part, set to Bach piano music, had each of the four dancers dancing short solos with a digital version of themselves. Wheeldon has also recorded interviews with each of the dancers, chunks of which are blended into the music. These recording are both fascinating and completely inconsequential. It was bizarre to hear them speak. Despite knowing Sarah Lamb was American, she appears such the English rose that I found hearing her American accent a little off putting. Eric Underwood could do much to convince the general public that there is nothing camp about ballet, he sounds a bit like Samuel L Jackson (awesome in other words). Despite the novelty of actually hearing what dancers sound like, what they had to say was largely repetitive and more than a little depressing. Edward Watson comes across far too like the Macmillan characters he so often dances (he does dance them very well). "I don't like my hands" he tells us. Like we really care. The whole self pitying theme (there's quite a lot of "gosh isn't dancing a trying, difficult profession" from all four) did nothing to get me interested and managed to distance me yet further from the dancers (which is especially surprising considering the Ballet Boyz are attached to this production and they are world leaders at making dancers seem less aloof). The projections largely worked well here, Sarah Lamb dancing in time with her alter digital ego brought back the best of Hiroaki Umeda's digital work, but strayed into gimmickery with Eric Underwood's appearance from the side of the screen and Zenaida Yanowsky leading her much larger digital self along by the hand. The piece changes sharply with the move into the second section as the minimalist sound of Steve Reich takes over. The projections continue but the choreography becomes unmistakably Wheeldon. From here on out the dancers worked very hard dashing about to the pulsating Reich score. Underwood is a stunning partner for Yanowsky, we really need to see more from him, and Lamb looked absolutely divine. Edward Watson didn't seem entirely on the ball, although I might just have been feeling sorry for him after his miserable sounding solo. The dancers are duplicated all over the large architectural set (not dissimilar to Chroma's, the last Royal Ballet premiere) to stunning effect and the opening and closing of the doors led to some startling imagery. As a work in its entirety, I'm still unsure whether this has much merit. So distracted by all the flashing lights and voiceovers, I quite forgot there was any substantial dancing at all. I'm seeing it again, later in the run, when hopefully I'll have found some of the novelty has rubbed off. At this point I don't see it remaining in the repertory. To recreate it with a new cast would be expensive, they'd have to rerecord everything and so personal is the opening section I suspect that would all have to be rechoreographed. This might all seem a bit harsh, I was certainly entertained for thirty minutes and the dancers are on fine form, it just feels more like a worthy experiment and not a substantial piece.

"Afternoon of a Faun" is very short but conveys a great deal. Carlos Acosta was on prime form as the boy whilst Sarah Lamb, who changes mode very quickly from the previous piece, looks absolutely stunning as the girl. Acosta gazes into the mirror (that is the audience) with an intense fascination, albeit with himself, but his relationship with Lamb was potent in its distance. Rarely do they look at each other, more concerned with their own images than the other person. All too brief but a fine performance of a very fine work.

"Tzigane" is a new acquisition and I've no idea why the Royal Ballet bothered. Marianela Nuñez did well enough although casting her in the Balanchine, whilst Ansanelli danced the Ashton, on opening night is totally inexplicable. Nuñez is the finest Ashton dancer we have whilst Ansanelli is ex-New York City Ballet, so knows a thing or two about Balanchine. Nuñez lacked her usually joyful expression prefering a smouldering gypsy look she can't quite bring off. Thiago Soares should be given a medal for being about the only dancer in the entire evening who seemed to be enjoying dancing. The eight backing dancers were unnecessary, doing little more than standard villager dancing. All hops and turns with hands on hips. Without massive flair from the solo girl the piece just felt flat, disappointing.

"A Month in the Country" came to save the day. Bearing absolutely no resemblance to anything that came before, this piece has everything I love about Ashton ballet's; a tightly constructed story and a mix of serious and comic dance, plus prop orientated dances I don't hate. Julia Trevelyan Oman's sets have aged beautifully, intricately detailed they are a joy to behold. Alexandra Ansanelli was miscast as Natalia, far too beautiful and youthful looking (despite her odd Princess Leia style haircut) plus her upper body was poor. When she flung back her arms as to open a door in anger so histrionic was it that a titter passed through the audience. she appeared to be crying out, please cast me in some Balanchine. Ivan Putrov is perfectly cast as the tutor who manages to fool around with all the women of the house without realising he's doing anything wrong. He has a boyish insouciance that come across through his every movement. The supporting cast were largely superb although Paul Kay's solo with the ball was a little scrappy. Iohna Loot's feet fluttered about as the naive girl, infatuated with the tutor, she looked every bit the part. A lovely ballet.

A varied evening, but overall a little disappointing. I suspect "Electric Counterpoint" will get a single revival next year with the same cast, just so the Royal Ballet can make some of the cost back (I suspect it was expensive), but will then fall into obscurity. A decent experiment but ultimately a failure. The rest of the evening was strong but didn't show the Royal Ballet at their very best. If they'd swapped round Nuñez and Ansanelli, a great many problems would have been solved. An evening of nice variety but no real successes.

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