Wheeldon Triple: After the Rain/ Strapless/ Within the Golden Hour, Royal Ballet, February 2016Posted on 13 February 2016
This was the first outing at Covent Garden for each of these three ballets, and for Christopher Wheeldon’s new narrative work Strapless a world premiere, framed here by the two abstract pieces.
The first, After the Rain is a lovely ballet in two sections to music by Arvo Pärt, premiered by the New York City Ballet in 2005. The first part to his Tabula rasa involves three couples (Nuñez and Soares, Calvert and Kish, Mendizabal and Underwood). Beautiful dancing to the gently refreshing music, but the real magic is reserved for the second section to Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel (mirror in the mirror), which is occasionally performed as a separate pas-de-deux. Here the lighting changes, as do the costumes with Marianela Nuñez in a pink leotard and Thiago Soares with naked torso. The music has huge warmth and a relaxed elegance, beautifully expressed by the dancers, with Ms Nuñez’s lovely performance, occasionally floating like a bird, the highlight of the evening.
The other abstract ballet, Within the Golden Hour, created for the San Francisco Ballet in 2008 ended the evening, its fourteen dancers doing their best with the seven rather dull musical pieces by Italian composer Ezio Bosso. The pas-de-deux between Vadim Muntagirov and Beatriz Stix-Brunell was joyfully sunny, and the duet for Luca Acri and Marcelino Sambé full of energy, but despite these interludes the choreography did not allow brilliant dancers such as Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb to exhibit their usual flair, and even the excellent Koen Kessels in the orchestra pit could not inject much life into Bosso’s lucklustre music.
Not so with Mark-Anthony Turnage’s specially commissioned score for Strapless, whose intriguing texture, after Wheeldon requested a rewrite, was in keeping with the ballet’s setting in the 1880s. Wheeldon’s eighth creation for the Royal Ballet was inspired by John Singer Sargent’s painting Portrait of Madame X, which he encountered at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, subsequently seeking to find out more about the model Amélie Gautreau, a young American woman brought up in France who married a wealthy French banker. The exhibition of the painting in 1884 caused a scandal when it showed one strap of her dress hanging suggestively off her shoulder, and that is essentially where the ballet starts.
It then moves back to 1881 when Sargent first encounters Amélie, before moving forward to the work on the painting itself, its eventual exhibition to the public and the rejection Amélie feels as she appears naked and invisible among the onlookers. In the meantime we see interactions and sexual encounters between Amélie (Natalia Osipova), her lover (Federico Bonelli), Sargent (Edward Watson), and his lover (Matthew Ball) including a pas-de-trois between Amélie, Sargent and his lover. The idea is to express a rich emotional life behind what became an artistic scandal, but at first view these fragments appear as a pieces of a jigsaw that do not quite fit together within the 45 minutes of this one-act ballet. Yet there is much to admire, not least Ms Osipova’s remarkable portrayal of a young woman seeking the approbation of society and esteem of the public, yet in the end feeling cast out.
Costumes and other details by Bob Crowley, well lit by Natasha Chivers, evoke the period, and Turnage’s music provides a luminous canvas to Amélie’s long solo, along with huge rhythmic complexity and a sense of fun, particularly in the café scene. This is a ballet that demands a second look to make better sense of what seems a somewhat disjointed story without a compelling narrative thread.
Performances continue with various casts until March 11 — for details click here.