Ballo della Regina/ Live Fire Exercise/ DGV:Danse à Grande Vitesse, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2011

This triple bill made for a rather fragmented evening, because the first two pieces took only 36 minutes between them, while the two intervals lasted half an hour each.

DGV, Royal Ballet photo by Johan Persson

But it was all worth it because the final item, Christopher Wheeldon’s Danse à Grande Vitesse, was wonderfully invigorating and performed with great energy. A clear stage seems to roll up at the rear into twisted metal sheets, though these are not quite what they seem when light later bleeds through. Wonderful designs by Jean-Marc Puissant, and beautifully lit by Jennifer Tipton, with subtle changes of hue. The lighting yields a very clear view of the principal dancers on the front stage while giving a more subdued feel to those who appear behind, and this is all part of the choreographic effect. The dancing was marvellous, the four principal couples being Zenaida Yanowsky with Eric Underwood, Leanne Benjamin with Steven McRae, Melissa Hamilton with Gary Avis, and Sarah Lamb with Federico Bonelli. All eight danced superbly, as did the dancers in the corps, and I thought Hamilton and Avis particularly stood out, though that was partly the choreography. The music by Michael Nyman was conducted with energetic precision by Daniel Capps, who did a very fine job of uniting music and dance.

Capps also conducted the first item, Ballo Della Regina (The Queen’s Ball) giving it a suitably regal tone while maintaining just the right rhythm for dance. It’s a Balanchine work set to music that was cut from Verdi’s opera Don Carlo, and involves a sequence of variations, first with twelve girls in blue, then two principals in white, joined by four soloists in violet. The principals, Marianela Nuñez and Sergei Polunin, danced exquisitely, well supported by Yuhui Choe, Emma-Jane Maguire, Samantha Raine, and Akane Takada as the soloists, and the other twelve girls from the corps. Watching this was a real pleasure, and I look forward to the Company doing it again.

Federico Bonelli in Live Fire Exercise, photo by Bill Cooper

After this short ballet was over we had to wait nearly twice as long again for the second item, Wayne McGregor’s new work Live Fire Exercise. This looked rather intriguing at first, with small trucks and other heavy vehicles moving noiselessly in a window at the back of the stage. Then six silhouettes walk on and there is a silent explosion creating a plume of fire. The images by John Gerrard are wonderful and it was only after the fireball that I realised they were projected onto a screen in 3-D. The surroundings on the screen slowly rotate and the images move forward, becoming larger. It was fascinating, but seriously distracted from the dance going on at the same time. This distraction is a feature of some of McGregor’s other ballets, such as Infra and Limen, and I wonder why he does it. Perhaps he feels the choreography is not sufficiently interesting to fill out twenty minutes, but the images were, and I liked the plume of fire turning to smoke as night falls, and it all seemed to become more focused as the light showed up the dancers. Eventually dawn arrives, the vehicles leave, the silhouettes reappear and suddenly scatter. The music is the Corelli Fantasia by Michael Tippett, conducted by Barry Wordsworth. It’s lovely music, with a strong pastoral feel towards the end, though the whole thing never really came alive despite the terrific dancing.

The high standard of dancing in this triple bill is a great credit to the Company, and I admire the fact that they put on a new ballet and two others that are not standard repertory, but the intervals were enervating, and the hour and twenty minutes between the end of the first work and the start of the last — three quarters of it interval — would have been a good time for dinner.

Performances continue until May 25 — for more details click here.

Leave a Comment