Review — Royal Ballet Triple Bill: Agon, Sphinx, and Limen, 13th November 2009

Marianela Nuñez as the Sphinx in Tetley's ballet Sphinx, Royal Ballet photo by Bill Cooper

This was a second visit, my first being on opening night. The dancers were the same, partly because of injury, although Sphinx should have had an entirely new cast. But this time I was close to the stage in the Stalls Circle, so things looked different. I’ll say nothing further about Agon, but make a few more notes about Sphinx and Limen.

In Egypt sphinxes represented power and vigilance, guarding temples. In Greece however there was but one mythological sphinx, represented with a female head and breasts, lion’s body, eagle’s wings and serpent-headed tail. In short a monster that was said to guard the city of Thebes, killing any traveller who could not solve the riddle it asked. In Cocteau’s 1934 play La machine infernale the Sphinx challenges her own destiny. Weary of immortality she desires love and freedom, and takes the guise of a young woman. She falls in love with Oedipus and tells him the answer to the riddle, enabling him to continue to Thebes and follow his destiny. Glen Tetley’s ballet Sphinx was inspired by Cocteau’s play, which he saw in New York in 1950, and he composed the choreography for just three dancers: Oedipus, The Sphinx, and her guardian Anubis, who warns her against falling for Oedipus. Once again Edward Watson was immensely powerful as Anubis, and Marianela Nuñez was a superb Sphinx, but from close up Rupert Pennefather was disappointing. He seemed to be going through the correct motions, but the dance didn’t come from within. In a part like this he needs a greater identification with the character —he needs to own the role.

Wayne McGregor’s new ballet Limen is in two parts, and I liked the first half with the bright costume tops. These disappear in the second half where the lighting is low and the on-again off-again blue lights distract from the action. In the dim light some of the dancers are stationary with their backs to the audience, while one or two dance around them. Apart from the fact that the screen came to the front with its lights mostly on, there was no resolution, but I would have preferred one, particularly since this was the last work of the evening.

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