Raven Girl/ Symphony in C, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2013Posted on 25 May 2013
Choreographer Wayne McGregor’s strength is as a visual artist, and this ballet is based on a fairy tale by Audrey Niffenegger, a novelist and visual artist. A postman falls in love with a raven that gives birth to their child the Raven Girl, who yearns to be bird rather than human.
Despite the range of visual effects, with flying birds, accumulating letters that need posting, spinning spotlights and the like, the episodic story-telling was insufficiently compelling, partly because the choreography inadequately expressed the emotions of the characters. At the start we see video projections of alphabetic letters undergoing multiple changes before finally resolving into ‘Once there was a postman who fell in love with a raven’, and we see Edward Watson as the postman with his letters, but it is all too slow. I felt as if I was being hit over the head with a soft cushion, being told that this man is a postman, and before he encounters the wounded raven and takes her home, there was almost nothing happening.
In the end, McGregor gives his story an uplifting moment and the alphabetic letters reappear to slowly spell out ‘Once there was a Raven Prince who fell in love with a Raven Girl’, followed by a pas-de-deux, with Eric Underwood as the prince. The dancers themselves were excellent, with Sarah Lamb as the Raven Girl, Paul Kay as a boy, and Thiago Soares as a crazy doctor, but it came over more as a sequence of effects rather than a compelling story. Composer Gabriel Yared has written award-winning film music, such as that for The English Patient, and the orchestral and electronic music is atmospheric in the way of that genre, but disjunctions between music and choreography render it less effective than it could be.
Following this 70-minute story-ballet the plunge into the pure waters of Balanchine, to Bizet’s Symphony in C, was sheer delight. The commanding precision of Zenaida Yanowsky, along with wonderful lightness and control by Ryoichi Hirano got it off to a superb start in the first movement. Here was the essence of Balanchine, the dancers seeing beyond the audience into the choreographer’s inner vision. The slow movement that follows was beautifully phrased by Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares. Her graceful calmness was a study in perfection, and I particularly liked the musicality of Olivia Cowley as one of the supporting soloists.
The contrasting thrust of the third movement was executed with huge vivacity by Yuhui Choe and Steven McRae, followed by Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera in the fourth. The technical assurance of the dancers was a joy to watch, and Hirano’s entrechats six were a marvel. Fine conducting by Koen Kessels, and at half the length of McGregor’s new work, this was the jewel of the evening.