Royal Ballet Triple: Electric Counterpoint, Asphodel Meadows, Carmen, Covent Garden, May 2010

Pennefather and Nuñez in Scarlett's fine new ballet Asphodel Meadows, photo by Johan Persson

Asphodel Meadows is a very interesting new ballet by Liam Scarlett, to Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra. There were fourteen dancers plus three principal couples, one for each movement of the concerto. The first was beautifully danced by Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather with lovely elegant movements, the second more spicily by Tamara Rojo and Bennet Gartside, and the third fluidly and fast by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera. Costumes were leotards for the boys and simple skirts and tops for the girls, bluish/beige for the fourteen dancers, with dark brown, charcoal, and crimson, in that order, for the principals in the three movements. I thought the designs by John Macfarlane were excellent, as was the lighting by Jennifer Tipton. It all lasted a little under 25 minutes and was a delight to watch. The title is interesting. Asphodel is a type of lily, and the name is from ancient Greek. Meadows of asphodel appear in Homer’s Odyssey (Book XI, line 539), where Odysseus travels to Hades and encounters the shades of dead heroes.

Sarah Lamb and Edward Watson in Electric Counterpoint, photo by Dee Conway

This new ballet was sandwiched between works that were performed within the last two years. The programme started with Christopher Wheeldon’s Electric Counterpoint, to music by Bach and Steve Reich, played by Robert Clark on the piano and James Woodrow on the solo guitar. It appealed to me much more than when I saw it in early 2008, though the cast was almost identical, with Edward Watson, Sarah Lamb, Leanne Benjamin and Eric Underwood — last time, Benjamin’s role was performed by Zenaida Yanowsky. In the first part each dancer appears alone, starting with Sarah Lamb. There is a wall facing the audience on which is projected another version of Sarah Lamb, dancing as if she were a mirror image. Gradually, however, the dancer and her image go disconcertingly out of phase with one another, but later there is little connection between dancer and image. During this first section, along with the piano music by Bach, there is a recorded voice-over by the dancer who is performing, giving personal details of their life and motivation. In the second part the wall facing the audience vanishes and there is another wall at an oblique angle, with four doors through which the dancers appear. The electronic music is accompanied by guitar, and there is pas-de-deux work as well as solo dancing. It lasts thirty minutes, which I found well spent, and I liked the designs by Jean-Marc Puissant and the lighting by Natasha Chivers.

After seeing this, followed by Asphodel Meadows, the evening didn’t need spoiling with Mat Eks’ dreadful Carmen, and I’m delighted they put it as the third item on the bill, so I could happily leave.

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