fri 01/08/2014

Concerto/ Las Hermanas/ Requiem, The Royal Ballet | Dance reviews, news & interviews

Concerto/ Las Hermanas/ Requiem, The Royal Ballet

Kenneth MacMillan's Requiem shines in his memory on a one-man triple bill

Thiago Soares and Zenaida Yanowsky in 'Las Hermanas'Images © Bill Cooper/ROH

With a reputation as the prince of unflinching emotional catharsis, Kenneth MacMillan emerged from the Royal Ballet’s triple bill marking the 20th anniversary of his death as a lord of lyricism. The new bill presents MacMillan three ways, his academic instincts, intellectual imagination and emotional vision - a bold versatility you (whisper it) almost never see from today's choreographers. And it was a surprise that the most heart-felt performance came in the elegiac melancholy of his ballet Requiem, commemorating his own death quite as evocatively as it must have originally lamented that of his friend John Cranko, for whom he created it in 1976.

The draw-factor for balletomanes was something more characteristic of his general reputation, a tight, compressed little horror-drama that the Royal Ballet has only twice before performed, Las Hermanas (The Sisters), in which sex brings downfall to all. Very MacMillan - and about time this company (which is steeped in his large three-acters) attempted one of the higher-proof one-acters that reveal the radical in this most intriguing choreographer’s soul.

It was made for the less conventional German troupe of Stuttgart in 1963, the start of his best creative period as a dissident from the Royal Ballet, and it blazes hallmarks of modernism. It opens with a silent tableau, as (cinema-style) we see a passionate kiss, and the girl creeping back into her house - this much, realism - and joining her four sisters, as they seem to clutch their stomachs in pain in a row of rocking-chairs monitored by a fierce mama - this switching to expressionism.

The music has a peculiar, woozy quality which makes me think of the dentist’s, and the kind of pain you anticipate from a long way off

The picture designed by Nicholas Georgiadis is all black and white, the lighting stark, the clothes stark, the movement like a semaphore of frigid no-no or orgasmic yes-please. The dance argument extracted by MacMillan from the original play by Federico García Lorca, The House of Bernarda Alba, is that sex's vast repertoire of body language is a code for all sorts of other political ideas (he's done much sexier sex in other ballets).

The eldest sister, sitting far left in the row of rocking-chairs, must be married first, before the option passes down the line from left to right, in age order. The fact that - in Zenaida Yanowsky’s wrenchingly powerful performance - the eldest loathes and fears sex with every fibre of her being, and the further fact that the intended husband has already had her eager youngest sister, add up to a fatal outcome. But in parallel to the plot is a very powerful image, that of five sisters, and the way MacMillan has them invade and scurry through the stage, clumping in little alliances, falling into line, or attacking each other, creates a strange invitation to see them as aspects of one complicated person - the creator, the viewer.

Morera, McGorian Las HermanasFrank Martin’s music, with a harpsichord central, has a peculiar, woozy quasi-baroque quality to it which makes me think of the dentist’s, and the kind of pain you anticipate from a long way off. The piece is tightly constructed, the choreography verges on mime, and toppling over that line is the trap that needs to be avoided as this talented first cast settle in (if they can, given just three performances).

The lacuna in the drama was Elizabeth McGorian’s Mother, stomping like a panto witch with her stick, rather than a hurt woman with decades of fiery anger banked up (as I recall Genesia Rosato doing in a show in 1998). The Mother should bully the stage, dictate the timing, force us all into line. As it was, Yanowsky did all the work to carry the piece, and she couldn’t do it all on her own. (Pictured right, McGorian terrorises second daughter Laura Morera.)

Thiago Soares was fine as the opportunist, hirsute husband-to-be, dirtily assessing the shagging qualities of all the sisters. The thing MacMillan’s choreography brings out strongly with its marionette gestures, teetering circles and furtive glances is that in this particular household entire lives ride on absolutist decisions that countermand natural differences; there is no soft tissue there, no learning possible. From time to time Martin's music jars with a movie melodrama and the grotesquerie of the end misfired on the first night, but this is a ballet of many ideas worth exploring by the cast.

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