Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, July 2012Posted on 15 July 2012
This triple bill, inspired by three Titian paintings currently on view at the National Gallery (Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon), is a tribute to Monica Mason who is retiring as artistic director of the Royal Ballet. The three ballets involved seven choreographers!
The theme of the paintings finally came to life in the last ballet Diana and Actaeon, beautifully choreographed by Liam Scarlett, Will Tucket and Jonathan Watkins. Here we see Actaeon and his hounds, Diana and her nymphs, and witness the clash between them when he enters their space. The transformation scene where his purple hunting outfit converts to brown with dark legs, like a stag, was very well done, and when his hounds attack him, blood soaked pieces of ragged flesh appear round his haunches. The choreography was intriguingly inventive, and the pas-de-deux between Federico Bonelli as Actaeon, and Marianela Nuñez as Diana, amply expressed confusion on both sides until she finally takes command, and her nymphs come on to effect the transformation.
The set designs by Chris Ofili were fabulous, with bold colours expressing an otherworldly forest scene, reminiscent of Bakst’s dramatic designs for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Dramatic dancing too from the large cast, in which Bonelli and Nuñez were exceptional. Music by Jonathan Dove, beautifully conducted by Dominic Grier, was wonderfully expressive, and the singers Kim Sheehan and Andrew Rees were excellent. This final item of the triple bill will surely stand on its own in the future and I look forward to seeing it again.
It was particularly welcome after the second item, Trespass, featuring dull choreography by Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon to some dreary music by Mark-Anthony Turnage, conducted by Barry Wordsworth. The dancers did their best with it, and the set design by Mark Wallinger featured a huge, curved, two-way mirror, apparently inspired by the idea that Diana is goddess of the moon, and that Actaeon is trespassing on a lunar landscape. The effect of the mirror probably depended where you sat, and I suspect the ballet looked far better from the Stalls, than the Amphi.
The first item, Machina, had a more direct appeal. Here was Diana represented by designer William Shawcross as a massive industrial robot, with a light at the end of its arm. Its arm movements were so interesting one could almost miss the dance choreography. Nico Muhly’s wonderful music, very well conducted by Tom Seligman, formed a fine basis for the choreography by Kim Brandstrup and Wayne McGregor, and the only problem, as in many of McGregor’s pieces was the distraction of the clever lighting. The huge robot with the light on its arm rather overwhelmed the dancers towards the end, and the lighting by Lucy Carter showed an intriguing use of shadows as the machine moved gradually from invisibility to superb clarity. The main dancers, Leanne Benjamin, Tamara Rojo, Carlos Acosta and Edward Watson were simply superb, exhibiting the choreography to huge advantage.
But where were the flowers for Tamara Rojo and Leanne Benjamin? Huge bouquets greeted the female principals in the other two works, but there were none here. This is becoming standard practice where Rojo is concerned, and if the Royal Ballet were a less confident company one might suspect some machinations behind the scenes, since Rojo is leaving to become Artistic Director of the ENB. Surely there is another reason, particularly since this was a great tribute to Monica Mason, who appeared on stage at the end looking absolutely delighted.
The next performance is a live relay on July 16 to BP big screens, and two other performances follow on July 17 and 20 — for details click here.
My views on the three ballets and their designs and music are almost exactly the same with yours, except that I thought the robot did much less distraction to the dance than McGregor ballets’ usual designs. I quite enjoyed watching the robot and Edward Watson together. But I rather think only a super-exceptional dancer like Watson could look so “cool” dancing with a robot.
Reading comments on Twitter, most people seem to think Trespass was the best of the three. For me, it left the least impression. There were some innovative sculpture-like pauses (not unlike those in Balanchine’s Apollo) , but to me, those looked a little forced. It didn’t help that I didn’t quite get the music. But lots of people seemed to have liked it.
I thought Nunez and Bonelli were perfectly cast. Loved every movement of Nunez. Also I found the choreography for the nymphs quite lovely. But maybe the hounds could have been given more dance? Loved the set design too.
No flowers to Rojo and Benjamin…… How odd. As I failed to get the ticket for the final performance, I was so glad Dame Monica came out at the curtain call. It was a triumphant night for her and Royal Ballet.
No flowers in Machina tonight either (poor Tamara Rojo but I look forward to seeing her at the ENB). The robot should have had a curtain call too – it moved so beautifully that I’m sure it could have bowed to us.
Trespass would have been superb except that it was broken down into five or six separate movements so the momentum was lost. I am not a fan of Turnage’s music either but would have appreciated the chance to listen to more than five minutes at a time and maybe could have got into it better.
Sadly I could only get a slips seat which I’m far too old for, so my back could not cope with staying for the last ballet. I do hope it becomes part of the repertoire and I get the chance to see it another time.
Apparently, Mr Wayne McGregor has forbidden the staff to give flowers to Benjamin and Rojo on the stage.