thu 25/07/2024

Crystal Pite, Flight Pattern, Royal Ballet | reviews, news & interviews

Crystal Pite, Flight Pattern, Royal Ballet

Crystal Pite, Flight Pattern, Royal Ballet

Extraordinary première by Canadian choreographer explores refugee experience through dance, plus Christopher Wheeldon and David Dawson

The flight of the refugees: Crystal Pite treats migration and displacement in her new work for the Royal Ballet.© ROH/Tristram Kenton

Can thirty minutes of contemporary ballet say something meaningful about the modern refugee crisis? It has been the surprise of the season to find myself asking this question not once, but twice, at the Royal Ballet.

In Wayne McGregor's Multiverse, premiered in November, images of refugees on boats suggested a critical agenda but the dancing stayed abstract and impersonal. Could Crystal Pite's new Flight Pattern, which opened last night at the Royal Opera House, do a better job of responding to the human tragedy of displacement, or are there some things dance just can't say?

Even without its ambitious theme, Flight Pattern would have opened under a heavy weight of expectation. Hopes were high both inside and outside the Opera House that collaborating with Pite, one of the most respected contemporary choreographers in the world, would give the Royal Ballet a serious hit to make up for a string of lacklustre premières over the last few years. The opening moments of Flight Pattern certainly make an impression, with a group of 36 dancers moving as one pulsing, rippling organism - a Pite trademark we first met in her Polaris for Sadler's Wells in 2014, and one which works beautifully here to introduce the refugees as a group ever striving to move, but caught by forces beyond their control. Later, in another strikingly beautiful passage they ripple their arms in the flight pattern of the title and appear for a moment, bathed in golden light, as free and purposeful as wild geese on the wing. Finally some of them disappear into a bright snowstorm that may or may not signify the reaching of a goal.

Marcelino Sambé in Crystal Pite's Flight Pattern at the Royal Ballet. Photo by Tristram Kenton.As we know, there is little enough elation in the dreary process of searching for a safe haven in a hostile world, and Pite is far too intelligent to offer a tritely happy ending, nor does she shy away from portraying misery. There is a deep sadness in the passage where the dancers remove coats and jumpers and roll them up to sleep on the floor, and even more when the coats are transformed into visual synecdoche for the people who have been lost along the way. As a pile of coats is placed in Kristen McNally's arms she bears them towards the light, visually echoing the pietá who sings to her son, the dying Jesus, in the soprano solo from Górecki's Symphony No.3. It's a powerful moment, and the angular McNally - funereally pale - works again and again to bring our attention back to the raw pain involved in displacement. In the ballet's final moments, she sits dejected, with her back to us, offering a grave counterpoint to the frantic rage with which Marcelino Sambé (pictured above right) flings himself around, panting with frustration. The curtain falls on a simple and immensely moving tableau, as Sambé ceases his hurtling and lays one gentle hand on McNally's shoulder.

Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares in Christopher Wheeldon's 'After the Rain' at the Royal Ballet. Photo by Tristram Kenton.The other two pieces on the programme offer a marked contrast to Flight Pattern, as if the bill had been designed to oppose Pite as vividly as possible with the Royal Ballet's conventional contemporary work. Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain is a slick, soupy, sentimental piece, well-executed in the Wheeldon style that seems to have one eye always on a camera (there is an atmospheric YouTube video of Yuan Yuan Tan and Damian Smith doing part of this piece on a seaside stage at sunset). After the Rain was made to commemorate the partnership of Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto at NYCB on the occasion of Soto's retirement and the tender, elegiac quality of its main pas de deux (set to Arvo Pärt's Spiegel im Spiegel) was heightened on the ROH stage last night by what felt - to me at least - like the unbearably poignant pairing of Marianela Nuñez with her now ex-husband, Thiago Soares (pictured above left). Impossible to guess what was going through their minds, but the tender caresses of the choreography were charged with a tension that had the audience glued to their seats.

Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli in Christopher Wheeldon's 'After the Rain' at the Royal Ballet. Photo by Bill Cooper.The less said about David Dawson's The Human Seasons, the better. In fact, I'd recommend missing it entirely. Everything that is vapid and dreadful about contemporary ballet is present and correct: repetitive score based on arpeggios and ground bass; greige set with abstract light projections; complicated but banal "neo-classical" choreography that even Royal Ballet principals struggle to display to advantage; and startling and tasteless gymnastic feats. It may be testimony to Sarah Lamb's beauty and strength that she manages to make being swung around by one knee look elegant, but she shouldn't have to endure such indignity; even less should any ballerina, let alone lovely Claire Calvert, be dragged along the floor on her belly or manhandled like a sack of flour by six male dancers. It was clearly just rotten luck, but by the time Marianela Nuñez suffered an undignififed costume malfunction during her pas de deux with Federico Bonelli (pictured above right), it felt like adding insult to injury. The dancers make a game stab at it, like the top-class professionals they are, but only explosive Marcelino Sambé and pantherine Calvin Richardson manage to strike sparks from this wet material; the princely Bonelli and even more princely Vadim Muntagirov do no more than politely going through the motions, and who can blame them? Let's see no more of this, please.

Of Pite, on the other hand, we can stand to see a great deal more. Flight Pattern is good - vintage Pite, in fact, with all her characteristic seriousness of purpose and integrity of expression. It's not the best piece of hers I've ever seen - marred in particular by quite dark lighting, and the vastness of the ROH stage, both of which obscure the detail of her choreography in its crisp and kinetic passages - but miles better than other recent contemporary premières, and a remarkable response to one of the defining humanitarian issues of modern times.


Surprised at your condescending comments on The Human Seasons as i find it rather elegant in it's conception. I also think it's highly unlikely that any of the cast looked as if they were being dragged around like a sack of potatoes.

By implication, your insulting comments about David Dawson condemn Kevin O'Hare for showing Human Seasons and subjecting his dancers to such 'degrading choreography'. - Have you written to Mr O'Hare about this?

What is "Canadia"?

Such a misrepresentation of David Dawson's work and to say "let's see no more of this, please" is purely ignorant. The artistic director of The Royal Ballet respects the big picture when programming and, in that picture, David Dawson is at the forefront. You should get out more, dear.

This writing and critisism to Mr Dawson's work is simply insulting. The way the review above is disgracefully penned suggests - to my understanding - that he hates women... I would just like to share the following ; Having worked with Mr. Dawson on several ballets during my career, not once has that suggestion crossed my mind.. On the contrary - he is one of the few choreographers out there that still RESPECTS the art form - the CLASSICAL art form in all its beauty.... Do not get me wrong; I LOVE contemporary ballet and modern dance as well, but I believe that EVERY art form out there should have its place - even in an ever so rapid changing environment wherein consideration to the past is often overlooked. It should be treated with a minimum of respect and dignity - regardless the personal opinion.

I did not suggest that David Dawson hates women (I'm sure he does not). I said that certain of the steps given to certain of the dancers in this specific piece are - in my opinion - undignified and aesthetically unpleasing. A number of other critics and audience members have expressed the same opinion in reviews, on Twitter, and on balletco forum.

Dear Miss Weibye, Perhaps because English is not your mother tongue you did not realise the implication of what you wrote. I certainly understood it to mean that you found the choreography "demeaning to women". I disagree. Kathryn Bennetts

As the stager of The Human Seasons, I would like to say that the ballet you saw was not, in truth, The Human Seasons - it was, as you say ‘a game stab at it’. And if you’d been privy to the staging process, your assumption that all the dancers are ‘top-class professionals’ might perhaps have been challenged. To me, personally, a top-class professional is someone who endeavours to present the art as authentically as possible. They are open to understanding the techniques required to achieve an artist’s particular style and vision, whether they like them or not. They are, in this case, open to falling, twisting, arching, tilting, throwing, sliding, etc. in contrast to being still, square, tense, upright, blocked and closed. A top-class professional makes the effort to learn the physicality, and musicality, properly and precisely. They observe, listen and practice, and they practice repeatedly until they master that which is strange and difficult. They retain the information, come to rehearsals prepared, they focus hard, and deliver the work consistently, without deflecting corrections and coaching advice. They do not bicker and moan about things they think are impossible before they’ve even tried them. A top-class professional puts the needs of the scene before the needs of the self, so that the scene’s integrity is not corrupted - tight, sleek unison doesn’t become loose, rough discord, a smooth canon doesn’t end up a jagged jumble, and narrative build doesn’t turn into ad-lib blah-blah. And a top-class professional (not to mention true artist) would never ever be satisfied with scraping though at the last minute, shrunken with shame, knowing they didn’t really do their best. Only when ALL cast members behave as top-class professionals, can a work of art hope to reveal it’s fragile truth. But when time is tight, when egos are inflated, when hearts are closed and minds are unfocused, all that can happen is the promulgation of lies. And the art is lost, and we will never know.

Oh this is too funny. Not only have we had Dawson's hissy fit about ciritics daring to say his dreary and derivative work is less than wonderful. Now his friend / employee / colleague spontaneously appears here in order to blame the CAST! Poor Royal Ballet, having to deal with such second-raters and their tantrums.

'A bad workman blames his tools' springs to mind here. Poor reviews? Solution: blame the dancers. Of course it has absolutely nothing to do with the choreographer or stager. How ridiculous to suggest. This, along with Dawson's now deleted tweet, akin to a baby throwing its toys out of the pram all because some viewers and critics disliked this particular piece (how dare you dislike his work & explain why!) has really set my teeth on edge. I doubt I'll ever see another ballet choreographed by Dawson again. In fact, I hope him & Tim Couchman are never invited back to the Royal Ballet. Their attitudes stink, are insulting to the dancers and are insulting to those who are able to form their own opinions. Dawson in particular clearly has a high opinion of himself judging by the sycophantic messages of support he's retweeting on twitter. I wonder if the higher powers that be at the ROH are aware of Tim Couchman's above view? Apologies for the rant on your review Hanna. I agreed with much of what you said. Perhaps it was to the Human Seasons detriment to be shown alongside such moving and inspiring pieces.

Seriously? Someone involved in the production is trashing the dancers? That's one of the most unprofessional things I've yet read. We the audience can say these things in a public space. You shouldn't. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole evening although The Human Seasons was the weakest link - Hannah's review I thought intelligent and considered. I would probably not have administered quite such a kicking, but then I'm not a critic.

Dear Miss Weibye, I apologise for assuming that you are a non native English speaker. It was because of something you wrote in your answer to the above post from Mr. Honorez.... And I quote " I said that certain of the steps given to certain of the dancers in this specific piece are - in my opinion - undignified and aesthetically unpleasing. The mistake of using "of the" when not necessary, led me to believe that you are a native German speaker, as it is a classic mistake made by German speakers when speaking English .

That would be Dr Weibye to you, Miss Bennetts. As for "of the"...really, that is your point? Really?

Seems to be; and she is wrong.

Not incorrect in British English, Kathryn. Perhaps Australian English grammar is different in this respect.

I have to say I am thoroughly entertained by the comments here. Ms Bennetts nonsensical corrections are redundant. Someone please take the keyboard away and give her a cat to stroke instead!

The problem is the partisan home team defend with more lung power than logic the mediocre native ballet company. Choreography aside, Mr. Couchman and Ms. Bennetts are correct, the Royal Ballet, is bland, anodyne, directionless and boring - offering up approximations of classics, generic modern and tedious soulless takes on everything they do. Homogenised mulch. And here as everywhere where mediocrity is championed, those brave enough to say the emperor is in fact naked are attacked roundly. If you want to see what a true director could do with a company Ms. Bennetts effect and efforts for RBF were a sobering and shaming reminder of just how bad the British Royal Ballet had become under successive directors intent on destroying and dancers who could just not be bothered. But hey let's not let people and artists with proven track records of producing excellence stand in the way of cheering for the second rate home team

This review of David Dawsons piece is scandalous. His work is highly respected all over the world and if you as an arts critic are too closed minded to see any good in his work then possibly the person lacking in artistic talent in the critic not the choreographer. @ Susan if he is not invited back to the royal ballet it will only be their loss. Proving they are somewhat stuck in old times . To me David Dawson is one of the only exciting new choreographers in ballet , filling the gap between classical ballet and contemporary dance. Everyone has an oppinion but to trash a piece of artistic work the way this review does is wrong.

"to trash a piece of artistic work the way this review does is wrong" Dear oh dear, the Friends-Of-Dawson on here do not do him much of a service. Lee, please explain yourself. Do you mean morally wrong, or wrong as in incorrect? And do you understand right and wrong criticism as, say, Leavis or alternatively Adorno might use the term? Or are you just typing? Please, you and others who think your jejeune postings help your pal, try and talk to people outside your opininated (but uneducated) bubble.

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