There are several unusual things about the Royal Ballet’s new work, Raven Girl. It is the first time that resident chorographer Wayne McGregor has created a piece for the company with a strong narrative thrust, and it saw Audrey Niffenegger write and publish a new fairytale with McGregor’s express intention to convert it into a ballet.
Raven Girl sees a humble postman and raven give birth to a girl who can neither speak nor fly. Her subsequent search for wings is really a search to belong, and when she gains them she doesn’t find the happiness that only comes after she learns to accept who she really is.
There is inevitably a dark side to this tale. Lighting levels are kept generally low while the backdrops bear images from the original book, convincingly capturing the subdued colours of aquatints. Niffenegger and McGregor’s main achievement, however, is to blend the old with the new both in terms of story and ballet. Niffenegger purposely created characters familiar to us such as a postman, and McGregor imbues into such traditional devices as the pas de deux his own choreographic style.
Some of the most chilling moments, such as when scientific specimens dance as if existing in a half-life, feel predominantly modern, while the doctor’s brutal treatment of the raven girl sees him wanting to create an artificial ideal out of the imperfect yet real. It is also notable that the majority of performers (the ravens and city people) are masked, which may in part be a commentary on modern facelessness.
From among the excellent cast Sarah Lamb as the raven girl stands out, applying appropriate levels of angst, anguish, nervousness and fear to her strong underlying technique. Edward Watson hands a touch of the spiritual to the very earthly role of the postman, Olivia Cowley as the raven proves both fluid and powerful, and Eric Underwood as the raven prince delivers a captivating pas de deux with Lamb.
The other piece on the bill is Symphony in C (1947), George Balanchine’s choreographed version of Georges Bizet’s eponymous work. This is, in part, a showcase for displaying some truly remarkable balletic movements, but it is the fact that each and every step fully embodies the nature of the music that makes this work such a masterpiece. In this instance, it is danced to perfection by the Royal Ballet.
Until 8 June (five performances) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DD. Casts vary over the run. For further details and tickets (£4-63) visit the Royal Opera House website.
Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from the Royal Ballet press team.
Photo: Sarah Lamb as the raven girl in Wayne McGregor’s new ballet, © Johan Persson.