Review – Royal Ballet Triple Bill (Asphodel Meadows, Carmen +1) – Royal Opera House

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On Saturday I did something I’d never done at the ballet before: I deliberately skipped seeing a piece. In fact, I came late so that I could skip said piece. In fact, I changed my tickets from the matinee to the evening show so that I could completely and utterly miss a work I didn’t care for. The object of my disdain? Chris Wheeldon’s “Electric Counterpoint,” which I reviewed when it was new and thought would never be revived again. My dislike of video being used with dance has only increased since then, and there was no way I was going to sit through this torture again. An hour late arrival it was.

What did manage to drag me out of my torpor? The promise of a new ballet (not that I haven’t been burned before, but you gotta support it), but by Liam Scarlett, who’d really impressed me in last year’s outing for New Works at the Linbury. The Royal Ballet had decided to give him the big hall treatment? Excellent! In addition there was a ballet version of Carmen, which though not new was new to me, and as Carmen is my favorite opera and one I thought would hold up well dramatically as a ballet, I was excited about the possibilities.

Scooching into my amphitheater seats (row M, kind of far off to the side but 11 quid was about all I could manage), I wondered what “Asphodel Meadows” would hold. We were shown three main couples, dressed in grey, brown, and rust (or so it seemed), with some five to seven corps couples in a beige so pale they looked washed out. Hmm. The movement was good, to me lacking the complexity of Balanchine but showing an ease at considering how bodies should be balanced in space and time, with some unusual arm movements and a confident use of “the pause” – moments when there was no dancing, and sometimes even no music. I was very much feeling like Scarlett was ready for this move up, though I, unfortunately, as an audience member and writer was not entirely ready for him – I’d forgotten to bring paper to write on. I don’t think I would have had much to say, though – it was good but not amazing, though I’m glad I got to see it – and I think it was worth reviving, far more so than the Wheeldon.

I think it may also be true that my ability to recall this show well was hindered by the evening’s finale, Mats Ek’s Carmen. The whole thing was so over the top that it went into the realm of the hysterically awful I refer to as “the baddicle,” right there with de Fruto’s infamous spectacle at the Sadler’s Wells’ Diaghilev show last fall. I might have been able to make some love in my heart for dancers in metallic fake-flamenco ruffles, but put them in front of a giant, polka-dotted, open-crotched panty set (with some crotch spilling out of it thanks to the lighting design), then drop the dancers on their butts to writhe with their legs spread open … I could buy the Carmen, but I found the dancing comical. Laughter kept breaking out up in the gods, and when at one point one of the nauseating ward of snifflers and coughers keeping us company blew his nose in time to a roll of castanets, I, too, couldn’t help but laugh. And after that it was all just a sad comedy of histrionic dancing (though seriously, Tamara Rojo should learn how to flip a “bata de cola” – I saw five days of flamenco in which not a single person had to use their hands to turn their skirts, and it just looked amateurish). I heard from the Tyro Theatre Critic that this ballet is very popular among some people, and that’s why they keep reviving it: for me, I leapt over the other five people to run for the staircase and the fresh outdoor air before the curtain calls started, because while I couldn’t really blame it on the dancers, I did really, really want to get away from it. The Baddicle comes but once a year, but when you’ve had a visit you always want it to end as soon as possible.

(This review is for the final performance of this set of dances, which took place Saturday, May 15th, at 7 PM. I didn’t show up until 7:55 and yet I felt I got my money’s worth out of the evening. Thank you to the Royal Ballet for making your shows affordable to people at all income levels.)

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