Royal Ballet Mixed Bill: Viscera/ Afternoon of a Faun/ Tchaikovsky pas-de-deux/ Carmen, ROH, Covent Garden, October 2015Posted on 27 October 2015
The big draw of the evening was Carlos Acosta’s new Carmen, but the three preceding ballets, all superbly danced, were arguably worth the whole evening.
Liam Scarlett’s Viscera made a welcome return after its first performances three years ago, with Leticia Stock and Nehemiah Kish in the tranquil pas-de-deux that shows the tentative attraction between a young man and woman before they exit in opposite directions. Framing this before and after, twenty dancers led by Laura Morera showed great kinetic energy. The visceral quality of these outer sections changes with the background lighting, and Lowell Lieberman’s music under the baton of Emmanuel Plasson showed more edge than I remember last time. For the slow movement, Kish and Stock made a wonderful pair, though for the live relay the casting will revert to the original couple of Nuñez and Hirano.
In Faun, Plasson’s beautiful conducting fully realised the sultriness of a warm afternoon and the slow awakening of desire. No wonder the audience were scandalised by Nijinsky’s original staging for Paris in 1912, but this is Jerome Robbins’ intriguing 1953 choreography for two dancers in a studio, where we see through the mirror of one wall. For elegance and restraint it is hard to beat Vadim Muntagirov and Sarah Lamb — they were superb.
Balanchine’s 1960 Tchaikovsky pas-de-deux made a fine contrast — first performed by the Royal Ballet in 1964 the music for this bravura piece was written for extra display in the Black Swan pas-de-deux during the first run of Swan Lake in Moscow, but languished in the vaults until Balanchine got hold of it. Steven McRae demonstrated his usual joyous technique, while Iana Salenko exuded the calmly accomplished perfection befitting a magician’s daughter. She was extraordinary.
Carlos Acosta’s new Carmen, to Bizet’s music for the opera re-arranged and orchestrated by Martin Yates, who also conducted, starts off well with muted trumpet, castanets and the rumble of low strings. A huge design by Tim Hatley, showing a circular, red-rimmed opening revealing a bleak outside world that folds onto the stage at the end, is very effective and leaves Don José surrounded by a field of red flowers after the murder. The imprisonment of Carmen towards the beginning is well portrayed — connected by her wrists with a rope held by Don José their attraction develops in this cold environment — but after he repeatedly declines to take a rifle and join the smugglers there is something coldly unprovoked in his sudden shooting of a blameless man walking across stage carrying a brief case.
After this it never quite recovered, despite a feeling of authenticity when Frasquita (Kirsten McNally) and Mercedes (Lara Turk) dance on a table, and a nice piece of percussion for the ‘matadors’ — but what were those sliding chairs on wheels doing? The mixture of chorus, a mezzo-soprano as Fortune Teller, and occasional shouted remarks really failed to work, and the ending was very lame. In the opera Carmen sings defiantly, and here she really has to dance, yet all we were given was emoting from both him and her.
Marianela Nuñez, however, made a wonderfully sultry Carmen, doing her best with the thin choreographic gruel on offer. Federico Bonelli was a fine toreador, and Matthew Golding a hugely powerful presence as Fate. Acosta himself showed suitable weakness as Don José, but overall this was a terribly disappointing mishmash of ideas. Pity.
Performances of this mixed bill continue on various dates until a live cinema relay on November 12 — for details click here.