Triple Bill: As One, Rushes, Infra, Royal Ballet, February 2010

Acosta and Morera in Rushes, Royal Ballet photo; Bill Cooper

All three of these ballets are concerned with interactions between people, and the first one, a new work by Jonathan Watkins, was an optimistic vision of individuals living in a harmony with one another — to be as it were As One. At the start one dancer appears in an opening that expands to reveal a whole apartment building. In the foreground a few people dance outside it, and we are then transported into one apartment where a house party is going on. This then changes to a different apartment where Laura Morera and Edward Watson desultorily watch television, yet their sluggishness suddenly releases a burst of energy, and they dance with great spirit. Between the start of the ballet and the ensemble at the end there are five scenes, and the energy of the performers is palpable. Kristen McNally danced a wonderful solo, as did Steven McRae, who performed against a background of flashing names and numbers that looked to me like a huge train timetable, and this helped create a sense of activity in day-to-day life. McRae and McNally also danced together, and were superb. I liked the set designs by Simon Daw, the simple costumes by Vicki Mortimer, and I thought the lighting by Neil Austin was excellent. The music, by a young composer named Graham Fitkin, seemed to lack a sense of precision and attack, but this may have been due more to Barry Wordsworth’s conducting rather than the composer himself. The choreography called for the dancers to perform in very close proximity to one another, not always doing the same things, which must have been quite challenging. There was some raggedness in the ensemble pieces, but it was a new ballet and this was the first night. It will settle down, and is well worth seeing again.

The second item, Rushes — Fragments of a Lost Story, by Kim Brandstrup is a beautiful description of a relationship between a man and two women.  Carlos Acosta was the man, with Laura Morera as the sexy woman in the red dress, and Alina Cojocaru more demure in the grey dress. These were the same dancers I saw last time at the premiere, and once again they were wonderful, and entirely convincing in their roles. The story is uplifting in the sense that although the man is drawn to the woman in red, who attracts and avoids him, he eventually notices the woman in grey, who has been watching from the sidelines, and finds love with her. I was delighted to see this Brandstrup work again, and find Richard Hudson’s designs very clever in conveying the fragmentary nature of the story. A bead curtain splits the stage into a front and back half, and the dark lighting by Jean Kalman gives a sense of mystery and uncertainty, sometimes shining through the beads, sometimes deflected by them. Part of the inspiration for this work was the Soviet era in Russia, which was littered with fragments: unrealised projects, the banned, the censored, along with secret notebooks and sketches. In this context the music by Prokofiev, originally written as a film score for The Queen of Spades, fits perfectly. Prokofiev wrote it at the same time as he was working on Romeo and Juliet, and one hears a similar pattern to the music. For this ballet Michael Berkeley has done us a great service by arranging and elaborating Prokofiev’s music, and it sounded wonderful, being well performed under the direction of Daniel Capps.

The final item of the evening was a revival of Wayne McGregor’s ballet Infra, which I saw in its previous run. On this second occasion I was sitting higher up in the house and I realised that the higher you sit the more the floor of the stage appears to take up the space within the proscenium arch. The best place to sit might be with the spotlights in the roof, where the animated figures moving across a horizontal strip on the backdrop would be invisible. They are intrusive and detract attention from the choreography, though perhaps that’s the idea, because Max Richter’s music is strangely dull and the choreography is more athletic than interesting. The highlight was the excellent pas-de-deux between Eric Underwood and Melissa Hamilton, and though there was certainly applause at the end there were also a number of empty seats for this third item.

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