Polyphonia/ Sweet Violets/ Carbon Life, Royal Ballet | Dance reviews, news & interviews
Polyphonia/ Sweet Violets/ Carbon Life, Royal Ballet
Double disappointment for two world premieres, despite the hype
All year we've had to wait for a world premiere, and two come along at once. Last night was built to make some noise about the three most impressive young names in Royal Ballet choreography, and that will be where the PR story ends, but not where the flat disappointment ends. For while Christopher Wheeldon is shown at his magnificent best in an early piece, both Liam Scarlett and Wayne McGregor's new creations are nowhere near the best that either has shown.
They're opposites, but alike in why they fail. Scarlett’s Sweet Violets is an impenetrable jangle of narrative in the old style; McGregor’s Carbon Life an unyielding jangle of amoeba-like dance in the new. Each is richly decorated, Scarlett’s with fine theatrical sets for his psychodrama about Walter Sickert, a painter with a nasty turn of mind, and McGregor’s with a grid that goes up and down and an array of today’s popsters performing live on stage, Mark Ronson as composer and bass guitarist, Boy George, Hero Fisher, Alison Mosshart among the singers.
Each sinks under the ponderous weight of its own image-making, but Scarlett's is a sadder flop, being a youngster who has made an outstanding start in semi-abstract ballets for the Royal Ballet. Possibly he was urged to do a narrative because of the fatal attraction of the Kenneth MacMillan Mayerling tradition, but this is far too clotted a scenario about the forces that possessed Sickert’s imagination, and his possible alter ego as Jack the Ripper (Johan Kobborg as Sickert pictured with Alina Cojocaru).
It's not at all a bad idea, actually: the sexual control that a creator allows his model or performer to have over his fantasy is an exciting theme, and the slanted, suggestive staging by John Macfarlane turns the audience neatly into peeping Toms. For 15 good opening minutes you watch the murder, see the artist torn in imagination and longings between “day” and “night” existences, addicted to recreating the newspaper reports for his own relish, peopling the fantasies with the drab prostitutes and shadowy men of his circle.
But then facts and names rapidly get in the way of a good story. The Prime Minister enters the scene, along with an evil spirit with black eyes ("Jack") and a man called Eddy, Sickert’s model does a sexy striptease, another woman goes mad, and someone else murders someone else - all frenziedly complicated with gesture and mime, furtively lit, and with much scenery clattering importantly about.
Tamara Rojo relishes being 'partially nude' (warnings are given by the Opera House on this, for health and safety reasons)
Scarlett has a true and very promising choreographic talent, but a dance-maker isn’t a News of the World reporter. He should have been firmly ordered by his seniors to stop trying to do a Mayerling-meets-Jekyll and Hyde, junk half the characters, change the music and distil to the emotional essence. The great Johan Kobborg is criminally underused in the main role, turned into a bufferish old Don Quixote wandering about the over-populated stage, observing his predicament rather than being in it.
The rest is typecasting: Thiago Soares as yet another handsome villain, Steven McRae yet another supernatural, Alina Cojocaru emitting sparrow-like misery in her translucently lovely way, Tamara Rojo relishing being "partially nude" (warnings are given by the Opera House on this, for the health and safety of the more fragile members in the audience). Laura Morera’s madness is inexplicable unless you read all the programme notes later (she’s had a baby by Queen Victoria’s grandson - he’s Eddy, that’s why the Prime Minister came in...). All major artists in niggardly material.
Part of the problem is Scarlett’s choice of music - piano trios by Rachmaninov, a man for whom excess is normal garb, but frankly, in this turgid, fraught obscurity, the three musicians had the best deal.
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