Review – Polyphonia, Sweet Violets, Carbon Life – Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House

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I am a big fan of triple bills, and a big supporter of new ballets, so a chance to see not one, but two new works at the Royal Ballet was not to be turned down. The first piece was by Liam Scarlet, whose choreographic development I’ve been tracking with enthusiasm for the last few years; it had a real advance buzz as a “murder mystery ballet” (what fun!). The second was by Wayne McGregor, whom I admit I’ve been feeling rather cool toward since he blew me off in high diva fashion some years back; advance buzz on his was, er, abstract something, with bonus awesome costumes. And then, well, there was a work by Christopher Wheeldon, whom I’ve got mixed feeling about – I’ve seen many of his works of which there was one hit and many misses; his advance buzz was, however, most positive.

Wheeldon was up first with Polyphonia, set to the initially grating sounds of Ligeti driving couples doing angular, unconnected motions … but the music smoothed out and the partnering became more intimate. My favorite moment was when lovely Sarah Lamb was bent back over her partner’s body and slid underneath his bent knee – I briefly felt fat and inflexible but enjoyed the motion and shape nonetheless.

Next up was Sweet Violet. I’d been told the ballet was hard to get without reading the program notes, but to be honest, even with reading them, I had no idea what was going on. There’s a scene of a murder, a scene of a painter and his model (and some cops or something), a scene at a dance hall, maybe some other scenes, a man all dressed in black, one with a letter … I’m sorry, I lost track. I could not get the narrative to cohere together into anything like what was described in the program, although there were some great moments of spectacle (I loved the bit done with the backstage view of a stage, complete with people in a box watching us – what fun!). I’m not sure how the dance was … my brain was working to hard to try to get things to make sense to actually engage with the movement. And the various female characters were all a blur. It was fun to watch and I enjoyed the music but overall it was a bit too much of a mess to be good.

We ended with Carbon Life, which I wasn’t actually the least bit excited about given what a steaming pile of poo Live Fire Exercise was and McGregor’s general downward arc over the years. I thought about it during the show, about what had changed in my perception of his work. When I first saw Chroma, I thought, my God, a whole new language for ballet! But now I think, my God, the exact same moves I saw before. It’s a language, but one that seems dedicated to finding 64 ways of saying “snow.”

In the end, though, this was my favorite part of the evening. McGregor is big on collaborating and this time he had some amazing musicians doing great pop songs (did he pick them? because they were cool) live at the back of the stage while the dancers performed in some wild costumes in front. The preview I’d read in Time Out said the dancers basically put ON the costumes over the course of the evening, which was about right; they started practically naked (in black hip-hugger shorts, the women in flesh colored shirts, the men topless and yummy) then came on with the strange clothes, kind of fooling around in them, as it were – with spikey tutu skirts designed to inhibit partnering and stiff, pointy glove things that immobilized arms rather than emphasizing their movement – the costumes were a bit of show in themselves. Ultimately it all came off as a sort of fun dance party. Choreography? I don’t remember any of it. But a good time was had by all. I can only hope it gets remounted in the Floral Hall next time so we can all dance along.

(This review is for a performance that took lace on Thursday, April 12th, 2012. It continues through April 23rd.)

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3 Responses to “Review – Polyphonia, Sweet Violets, Carbon Life – Royal Ballet at Royal Opera House”

  1. Alexander Says:

    Hello. I was curious to follow up what looks like it ought to be a hyperlink to “blew me off in high diva fashion” but the link doesn’t actually seem to have been set up properly as it doesn’t actually link to anything. It would be good to have this fixed as I’d be interested to read the article that it should link to! Thanks.

  2. studioincovent Says:

    oh my didn’t know he spoke to you that way, that is so rude.
    Good review too and yes there should be a dance party in the Floral Hall after this ballet, that would be cool!

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