Two of the greatest choreographers of the twentieth century go head to head with one of the greatest of the twenty-first, and all prove to be winners in this staggeringly good triple bill from the Royal Ballet.
Rhapsody of 1980 was Frederick Ashton’s last major ballet. Utilising Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, it was designed to showcase the brilliance of dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov and the bravado of Russian ballet by juxtaposing it with a more lyrical English style of movement in the corps de ballet. The piece works, however, by ensuring that there are as many synergies as contrasts between the two styles.
Steven McRae in an exceptional performance demonstrates great buoyancy and speed, and yet as he pulls off the most immensely difficult steps, there is as much smoothness as panache in his movement. Similarly, principal Laura Morera has a naturally elegant and expressive style, and it this underlying technique that enables her to ‘mix it’ so successfully in an equally brilliant display. When we see the men follow on from McRae’s own turn and the women really strutting en pointe it really feels as if they attempting to emulate what they have just seen.
Tetractys – The Art of Fugue is a new work from the Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer, Wayne McGregor. He collaborated with artist Tauba Auerbach, and the movements and designs build on the geometry demonstrated in seven sections of J. S. Bach’s The Art of Fugue. This hands the work much serious interest, and yet it also feels very engaging and accessible on a first viewing with each section featuring a different group of dancers. When we witness (for example) a woman being passed within a tight group of people, only to see it break up and everyone go their separate ways in a second, we feel both the formalism and visceral power of the gesture. Almost all of Auerbach’s costumes sport two colours so that, depending on the angle, we could be staring at an apparently all-white or all-black outfit. When groups of dancers appear together the permutations are numerous and the effects constantly changing.
The evening is rounded off with Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria of 1980, which is a multi-layered exploration of the First World War. Setting movement to Francis Poulenc’s ethereal Gloria proves a very powerful way of trying to make sense of horrors that cannot be spoken. In a final display, guest principal artist Carlos Acosta leaps high in an attempt to rise towards the light, but even he is forced to stare reality in the face and plunge feet first into the abyss.
Until 15 February (six performances) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DD. Casts vary over the run. For further details and tickets visit the Royal Opera House website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from the Royal Ballet press team.