Royal Ballet at Covent Garden
This eagerly-awaited new work from Alastair Marriott, starring Natalia Osipova, is based on Sebastain Seung's book, which tries to show how the wiring of our brain makes us who we are.
Not sure that we'd know that without being told. I think we might have guessed, though, that the concept originated with the designer, Es Devlin, with whom he worked on the Closing Ceremony for the London Olympics.
It does seem, sometimes, that the dancers are almost secondary to the effect of the stage pictures.
The design is certainly stunning. 400 suspended Metallic poles, like a glitter curtain, cast stark diagonal shadow stripes across the stage floor. Later, projected behind the dancers, neural strands like seaweed or birch twigs rotate slowly. And finally, there are brightly coloured strands, which die back to black as Osipova is left alone on stage.
Each section of this 30-minute piece explores a different aspect of our conscious experience: human interactions, creativity, death and loss. The music is Arvo Part, including the much-played Fratres – piano, woodblock and violin are prominent [the fiddler took a well-deserved stage call with conductor Barry Wordsworth and the dancers.
The dancing is vigorous and fluent, with lots of floor work. Osipova is joined by Steven McRae and Edward Watson, plus a corps of four young male dancers. The skimpy costumes recall the gymnasium; the style has elements of tai chi. Some of the dancing, despite being made on three of the best performers in the business, struggles to compete with the design, but at its best – as when McRae is held aloft as a sacrifice, danced to an ethereal solo voice floating around the dome – is memorably effective.
This world premiere is framed by two repertoire favourites.
Ashton's Dream – an hour-long reworking of Shakespeare to Mendelssohn's familiar music. Very Victorian fairies, a striking Titania from Roberta Marquez, partnered by McRae's spectacular Oberon. Paul Kay's Puck, though engaging, is a little on the earthy side, but Bennet Gartside is a brilliant Bottom, enjoying a lovely hoof-point pas-de-deux with Marquez.
Gartside stars again in Jerome Robbins' Concert. On a bare stage, a pianist [Robert Clark, the Royal Ballet's Head of Music Staff] sits down at the grand piano to play Chopin. The audience enters one by one, bringing their own folding chairs, and a nice little intrigue emerges: Lauren Cuthbertson is hilarious as the myopic would-be dancer, pursued by Gartside's errant husband, to the fury of his nagging harridan of a wife [amusingly done by Laura Morera]. It's obvious stuff, in the main, but the constantly diverting ideas – the ragged pas-de-six, the Raindrop umbrellas, the Papillon butterflies chased off at the end by a frustrated Clark with his butterfly net – keep the audience audibly amused.
A satisfying sandwich, this – excellent value, too, with two masterpieces superbly recreated and an inspired new work beautifully realised.
And a timely reminder of Ashton's delicious Dream, as Northern Ballet tour their new version – a ballet company on a train trip from monochrome to technicolor – and the Mariinsky bring their Balanchine ballet to this very house ...