Royal Ballet Triple: Polyphonia/ Sweet Violets/ Carbon Life, Covent Garden, April 2012

This was an entirely twenty-first century triple bill.

Polyphonia, all images by Bill Cooper

The first work, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, set to ten piano pieces by Ligeti, was first shown in New York at the start of the century, January 2001. The large Covent Garden stage gave space to the spare minimalism of Wheeldon’s choreography, with darkness sometimes surrounding a spot for the dancers. It has the sense of a sequence of études created for four couples, and along with the pas-de-deux work there is a section for three female dancers and another for two males in contest with one another. The silences between the ten sections and the purity of the piano sound give it a contemplative feel, and it was beautifully danced. It was only spoilt by some handkerchief-less members of the audience who couldn’t control their tousserie.

Leanne Cope and Thiago Soares

Sweet Violets is such a pretty title, quite in contrast to the content of this brilliant new work by Liam Scarlett. It starts with an incident on September 11th, 1907 when a part-time prostitute named Emily Dimmock was murdered in her own home. Her partner returned the next day to find her throat slit from ear to ear. Nothing had been taken, the motive was a mystery, and this infamous Camden Town Murder was never solved. What inspired Scarlett was a series of paintings and drawings by Walter Sickert, who specialised in portraying the deep, dark underworld of London. His role was performed with admirable understatement by Johan Kobborg, whose friend was the murderer in this take on the story.

Sickert’s friend, very well portrayed by Thiago Soares, obviously has two sides to his nature, and the fight with the prostitute was wonderfully realistic as he grappled with Leanne Cope, superb as the unfortunate Emily Dimmock. But that is only the start. This is a full-length story in one act, intense, brutal, and with ramifications at the highest level.

Kobborg as Sickert and McRae as Jack

The story has been set in the late 1880s when Queen Victoria’s grandson Eddy was still alive, and Lord Salisbury was prime minister. Both of them appear here, portrayed by Federico Bonelli and Christopher Saunders, to say nothing of Jack the Ripper, played as a very sinister character by Steven McRae. Laura Morera, Alina Cojocaru and Tamara Rojo danced beautifully, the first two as historical characters, and Rojo as an alluring artist’s model. This was a fabulous performance by an all-power cast, and a senior member of the Company told me the other cast is equally terrific.

Rachmaninov’s music for piano, violin and cello was beautifully played, and John Macfarlane’s designs, with David Finn’s lighting, gave a sombre, threatening atmosphere to the whole business. The clever use at one point of a stage and audience within the stage allows us to see the backs of the performers, making it feel as if we are looking in at things we should not really see. I shall go again, and again. Scarlett’s inspired new work is worth the whole triple bill.

Carbon Life

The third item, Carbon Life was a new creation by Wayne McGregor. Like his other work it involved unusual lighting design, this time by Lucy Carter, and I loved the clever way in which the dancers at the start appeared to glow in the dark. The whole thing was in several parts, with rock music and rap performed by musicians behind the dancers. Costumes ranged from simple swimming trunks to elaborate black outfits having pointed hoods, with cross-dressing allowed. The overall impression was of a very high quality music and dance video. Fun, balletic, and full of frivolity.

Performances of this triple bill continue until April 23 — for details click here.

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