Review – Draft Works in the Linbury – Royal Ballet and guests (downstairs at the Royal Opera House)

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Seeing shows in the Linbury is a treat: it’s a nice, intimate space where you get much closer to the performers. And something like “Draft Works” is an even more special treat, a chance to see dance works – and new choreographers – as they develop.

There’s not much on the ROH website about the show, so here’s the list of choreographers and the names of their dances:

At the River Styx – Robert Binet
Feathers in your Head – Ludovic Ondivela
Gallardo – Fernando Montano
Overtone – Declan Whitaker
Lonesome Gun – Kristen McNally
Within the Hours – Erico Montes
i lean and bob – Thomas Whitehead
Grace – Simon Rice
Into the Woods – Tamara Rojo
Brandenburg Divertissement – Valentino Zucchetti

We started with a lovely, very classical piece by Robert Binet, who is woring as a choreographic apprentice at the Royal Ballet this season. The music was the Biber violin sonata that is based on (to my ears) the old round song “Rose” (“Rose, rose, rose rose/Will I ever see the wed” etc.), lending a melancholy air to the dance; but given that the theme was Orpheus’ ascent from the underworld with Eurydice, when he is unable to turn and look at her, I found it wholly appropriate. Yuhui Choe twined and arced and hovered around Ricardo Cervera, she showing her confusion and fear, he closing his eyes as she passed in front of him and yet somehow managing all sorts of lifts and other partnering that seemed not in keeping with the “don’t look at her or she’ll go back to the underworld” dictum. Cervera pulled of some amazingly fast turns, but the piece overall still felt a bit unsettled – if promising.

Next up was dancer Ludovic Ondivela’s “Feathers in your Head,” performed by Lauren Cuthbertson and Bennett Gartside. I thought Lauren was a great choice to play someone laid low by Alzheimers – she seemed fragile, constantly searching but always lost. I particularly liked the starting motion of typing fingers on her shoulder, a reminder of a more ordered past. Bennet was a good partner, mirroring her moves, protective, but somehow not reaching her.

This was followed by Fernando Montano’s self-danced “Gallardo,” done to Piazolla. Montano was swift footed with his tango moves, seemingly attempting to seduce the audience as he glided and strutted (although I think his hip waggle needed a bit more shimmy). I think the two women he was supposed to have in the piece missed out on a great chance to improve their style of dancing, but then again, perhaps they would have only sat in the chairs. Still, it was a lively and enjoyable piece, if weak in the standard ballet choreography.

Next up was Declan Whitaker’s as dancer/choreographer for “Overtone.” I missed the program note about it being glacier-themed, but I did find it slow and not very interesting. There was a loud buzzing noise over the speakers, some slow poses and twitching, all very serious. I found myself wondering what a dance piece based on “There’s Something About Kevin” would look like. And then it was over.

Soloist Kristen McNally wrapped up the first half with the lighthearted “Lonesome Gun,” six dancers in plastic cowboy hats performing to music as diverse as Nick Cave and Ennio Morricone (and we have been long overdue for “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” to be used as dance music!). I laughed as the blondest woman mouthed “What are you lookin’ at?” before hawking and (mime) spitting. She described it as a skeleton of a dance, and it seemed to be hitting a lot of the cowboy points – gambling, fighting, some male/female rescue drama. It seemed to need more flesh on it but as what it was, a sketch done for a one-off, it was a breath of fresh air. (I can’t imagine she’ll really finish it, nobody does comic one act any more.)

After the interval, we had the high point of the night: Erico Montes’ “Within the Hours,” performed to original (being debuted) music by Oliver Davies (Three Waltzes for Cello and Piano, Helen Leek on piano and Ivan McCready on cello). The whole piece seemed a meditation on the fragile nature of life and our essential loneliness, performed by (in my eyes) very young dancers. Montes seemed to really know how to handle ensemble movement, with a yearning in their togetherness, and elements of unexpected as they came apart. The music was echoed and emphasized in the dance while never seeming to dictate what happened next. I found myself thinking of “Serenade.” Thank you, Mr. Davies, for this lovely work, and pass a thank you on to your dancers and musicians for helping make it happen.

“i lean and bob” was a very short piece, another comic one that I think won’t be seen outside of this small room despite the fact it was so fun. It started in the stalls, with Ryoichi Hirano slapping his hands on the stage as “Kringle” by Analogik started to play. He was watched closely by Sian Murphy, who then dashed past the front row patrons trying to catch up to him as he ran onto the stage. They then danced together, he ignoring her at times, then lifting her up awkwardly (and to her surprise), both of them bouncing, Ryoichi grooving, Sian disappointed at being ignored. It all ended with a kiss, a little burst of excitement and passion to wrap up Thomas Whitehead’s engaging first attempt at choreography.

This was followed by “Grace,” a modern dance piece choreographed by Simon Rice and danced by his own troupe. The dancers moved so differently from the ballerinas that I had to regear my brain substantially, but in the end, the language of half turns, bending forward, rolling across each other’s bodies, et cetera, seemed so old to me, like being in Seattle in 2000 and watching Pat Grainey. Modern dance has moved forward a lot and what I was shown did not engage me at all.

Next to last was Tamara Rojo’s “Into the Woods,” danced by Camille Bracher and Jose Martin. The set up was a man on a chair to which a sylph-like woman is tied by the ankle. As the man conveyed his adoration (and occasionally lust) for the woman – lifting her up while she struggled to get away, running his hands over her body – I saw in it echoes of other myths, such as The Firebird (and even Diana and Actaeon, but without the happy ending). But as it became clearer she was his prisoner, I started having flashbacks to Silence of the Lambs and wondering if he was going to tell her to “rub the lotion on its skin” (“or else it gets the hose again”).

Then Bracher’s character had what seemed to me to be a sort of “Stockholm Syndrome” moment as she decides she is attracted to the man, and the dance ends with her laying the rope around him (as he sits) and then curling at his feet on the floor. I was hoping for some rope around the neck and a violent escape, but … well, this did give me rather a lot to think about with only a simple story, so I think it must be considered a success.

Finally we had Valentino Zucchetti’s “Brandenburg Divertissement,” which was described as being architectural and Baroque, with a little passion. With a cast of eight, there was a lot of room for artistic creation, but ultimately I think its success was as a showcase for the up and coming dancers of the company (Yasmine Naghdi, who looked to me like the perfect Balanchine ballerina, and Claudia Dean, whom I was happy to see again after her promotion into the company, and all of the young men but especially Kevin Emerton). The choreography was unfortunately quite mechanical, a real contrast with the depth of “Within the Hours.” Perhaps it is the fault of Bach, or perhaps Zucchetti was just too literal in his interpretation.

Overall this was an enjoyable evening, a good introduction to both many dancers I did not know well and to many choreographers of all shades of experience. And at £11 a ticket, it was a good deal, with a special bonus: Ed Watson smiled at me during the interval *swoon* from about two feet away.

(This work is for a performance that took place on January 24th, 2012. Draft Works in the Linbury continues through January 26th, so just for two more nights. For more information please see Judith Flanders’ writeup for The Arts Desk or Clement Crisp’s shorter yet as always God-like review. Apologies for the many misspellings as trying to do this in 10 minute snatches during the workday is not conducive to cross checking what I’ve written with a program.)

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2 Responses to “Review – Draft Works in the Linbury – Royal Ballet and guests (downstairs at the Royal Opera House)”

  1. James Grant Says:

    the guardian on simon rice’s piece, which i also liked a lot:
    https://webcowgirl.wordpress.com/2012/01/25/review-draft-works-in-the-linbury-royal-ballet-and-guests-downstairs/
    “Related forces seem to sweep up the four dancers of Simon Rice’s Grace, who swirl in the riptide of Kapsberger’s Toccata Arpeggiata. Rice’s directorial touch is unforced but sure; his choreography breathes, and sits easily on his dancers.”

  2. James Grant Says:

    the guardian on simon rice’s piece, which i also liked a lot:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2012/jan/29/draft-works-wayne-mcgregor-review
    “Related forces seem to sweep up the four dancers of Simon Rice’s Grace, who swirl in the riptide of Kapsberger’s Toccata Arpeggiata. Rice’s directorial touch is unforced but sure; his choreography breathes, and sits easily on his dancers.”

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