wed 17/09/2014

Apollo/ New Ratmansky/ New Wheeldon, Royal Ballet | Dance reviews, news & interviews

Apollo/ New Ratmansky/ New Wheeldon, Royal Ballet

Two world premieres by two celebrated choreographers tick familiar boxes, hey-ho

Wheeldon's new Aeternum: the ensemble sculpture has an intriguing knotted inventiveness© Johan Persson/ROH

Two world premieres in one night is almost more pressure than anyone can bear - choreographers, commissioning company or audience. Still more when the spotlit dancemakers are probably the two top Western names in the art, Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon. Everyone, but everyone, expects masterpieces.

The curse of Apollo strikes, however. That is Balanchine’s Apollo, still as shockingly new and explicitly thrilling today as it was 85 years ago, and - as an opener on the triple bill - putting down a marker against which the premieres have to compete. A blessing on last night’s opening cast, with Carlos Acosta as sumptuous as a lion in his pride, surrounded by his three lionesses, Marianela Nuñez, Olivia Cowley and Itziar Mendizabal.

Acosta treats the sun metaphor (which Apollo, the god of sun and art, embodies) as the warmth on his back, the light on his face. He thrusts his hands into the air palms up, collecting sunshine, beaming his elemental force back to us with wonderful, almost jazzy sensuousness. It’s a terrific way to be Apollo - nothing grandiose or po-faced about this god, just heat, power and sex. (Below, Acosta as Apollo, Nuñez as Terpsichore)

apollo acosta nunez

But then follows the hissing sound of deflation. Both Wheeldon and Ratmansky are committed masters of classical ballet for today, each capable on occasion of creations of unique expressive imperativeness. Here, I sense on first view, both have produced work of expected skill, which feel as if they're fulfilling the commissioning company's expectations rather than either of them insisting on saying something keenly personal.

I wanted to be enjoying more than a balletic box of chocolates

One thing united the three works last night: the casual thrashing given to music as a component of ballet. The Apollo was played by the ROH strings under Barry Wordsworth as if sponging a wall with wet rags, rather than addressing the vibrant morning clarity of Stravinsky’s music. That though can be fixed in later performances.

However, Ratmansky, the Bolshoi Ballet’s inspiring and revitalising director from 2004 to 2008, has rot in his new ballet's foundations: he's saddled a drawing-room piece for four star couples with an orchestration of Chopin preludes that turns pellucid piano ephemera into cloying sludge, heavy on cellos, sucking at the ears in horrid un-Chopinesque noises. Meanwhile Wheeldon’s heroic desire to choreograph Benjamin Britten in his centenary year alighted on the undanceable Sinfonia da Requiem. Choreographers, by laying dance over a fine piece of music, are accepting a challenge to add something that, once added, you won’t want to not have. That’s what the 25-year-old Balanchine did with Stravinsky’s Apollo in 1928, and every step in it is blindingly assertive and unexpected, even today.

Comments

Saw this bill at its last

Saw this bill at its last showing last night;liked the Wheeldon but found the Ratmansky a total bore and the Chopin orchestration simply awful;where was the soul?

For a more perceptive take on

For a more perceptive take on Ratmansky and Wheeldon, not to mention Balanchine, See Alexander Macauley in today's New York Times.

A little unfair on two

A little unfair on two stirring new works from two A list choreographers. The orchestration of Chopin adds dynamism and drama to the sketches performed by the best the Royal Ballet has. The piece is classical, technically brilliant, emotive, beautifully staged, gripping and plays out in a filmic way as the dancers perform whilst their peers watch, observe and become like the audience, mesmerised in between their performances. Wheeldon's afterlife interpretation of Britten's requiem sweeps through horror and shock, realisation, acceptance before Bonelli and Nunez dance into the afterlife walking into the forever as silhouttes. Nunez had rarely looked so beautiful and assured whether she's watching the audience through an imaginary viewfinder as her leg becomes a gun, or en point dancing ghost-like, her costume stripped and her dancing laid bare and taken to only that which is essential. An amazing evening, not to be missed!
"...as sumptuous as a lion in his pride." What could that possibly mean?

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