Mixed Bill – The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, October 26 2015

The Bill: Viscera

Afternoon of a Faun

Tchaikovsky Pas de deux

Carmen (world premiere)

Lots to enjoy here, and lots to puzzle over.

A new piece, two 20th classics – one pretending it is from the 19th century, the other using ballet to tell a ten minute story and a dance piece steeped in neoclassical dance. If anything, the programme showed just how broad the term ‘ballet’ can be.

Liam Scarlett‘s Viscera is febrile in individual movement,  impressive in its synchronisation of dancers en masse each underpinned by eerie music. Dancers mirror each other – so far so ballet normal – but Scarlett’s souped up shapes and striking bodily images set him apart. In their groupings The Royal Ballet achieved an almost uncanny focus of presentation:  the guiding hand of Scarlett was firmly present. I have no doubt he was coaching and correcting until performance.

This was tight dancing.  Laura Morera bent and whipped her body into off kilter shapes, Robert Clark‘s crazy piano playing kept up the mood, with some appalling coughing from the amphitheatre lending constant percussive force at regular intervals.

The piece’s middle movement is a lengthy pdd (Nehemiah Kish, Leticia Stock) but I preferred the group work. At points one senses the product of Scarlet thinking ‘now how do I get out of the arrangement?’ as various permutations are tried, Kish and Stock exhausting ways to dance with each other. This was unashamedly modern ballet almost free from its roots, like Balanchine on steroids. I didn’t hate it.

Tchaikovsky Pas de deux was merely like Balanchine on Balanchine, being as it was choreographed by the man himself. Iana Salenko and Steven McRae found the joy in the pieces classical moments, but oddly, SM’S wildly flopping hair actually spoilt his line a bit for me. Nevertheless brio and aplomb fizzed from these fine dancers. There was audible praise for SMs tidy jumps and tours, gasps for his entrechats unusually full and wide in their horizontal expression,  daredevil fishdives which even I appreciated, and Iana finishing with five or six wonderful unsupported pirouettes: everything lustily applauded. Salenko’s hands flashing at a jump in true Balanchine(c) style(c) excellent to watch.  Murmurs of appreciation (‘Incredible!’ ‘Wonderful!’) chortles of glee from the old timers behind me, (not to mention constant comments…) Neo-classicism, an affectionate look back at a past, given ebullient updated glory.

In between the pieces Robbin’s Faun, Vadim Muntagirov and Sarah Lamb, all-too-briefly gorgeous in its eleven minutes length. Both gave an excellent account of the work.

From his first movements Muntagirov tells a story, the story of the ballet’s awakenings and discoveries. An extended leg, beautiful arms, as if stretching from slumber. Man as just dancer – beautiful and expressive, and dancer as Faun – Nijinsky-esque hands scissoring and slicing the air. (Faun meets world, then Self.)

Lamb found the poetry immanent in Robbins’ writing. Pinprick steps on entry suggested life new on earth – or peversity, like predator stalking prey. Lamb’s expression more child-like in self-investigation than truly narcissistic in the mirror moments. The pair’s self-regarding convincing, their forgetting of us believable, their chemistry smouldering. The orchestra sounded wonderful, the score was done justice: Debussy’s langours and enchantments  bubbled. A priapic leg from Muntagirov at close, and an expression of, what? Puppy love? Exquisite happiness? both then, mixed with a sadness which knew his paramour had fled. Delightful and all beautiful.

Carlos Acosta’s Carmen doesn’t quite strive so much for beauty: Carmen the story is seamy and squalid. Carmen the ballet is pace Acosta, steamy throughout and solid in places, but the whole doesnt feel a whole quite yet: it feels rather disjointed, stolid, almost.

Acosta aims to chuck as much as possible into his 59 minutes. Had the ballet been allowed a full evening, results would have been better. Had also the pushing each other round on chairs, the singing (bizarre in Spanish, and…not very good…when solo,) the truly awful costume nay, entire character concept an unrecognisable Matthew Golding had thrust upon him, the lite-flamenco including old geezers in hats bashing and strumming away at the Stygian rear of the ROH stage, the rifle tossing, the Broadway-esque opening and self aggrandising closing, the human wheel bits (toe curlingly silly) the spoken sections undecipherable to those who ‘no habla Espanol’ been omitted too, things would have been better.

I didn’t find it as horrible as it seems many others did.

It has some nice moments in pas de deux, and it has the always-excellent Marianela Nunez as Carmen being pretty salacious, and dancing with commitment, verve and effort of characterisation. Sadly the writing doesn’t afford much development of character, which in ballet anyway is often almost impossible.

The good moments (including a cool kind of partnered twirling where MN is swung round CA’s neck over and over) remain just moments, transient and sparse. They’re nullified by the ballet’s more anodyne divertissements. The bad elements sadly linger.

Even the outstandingly handsome Frederico Bonelli is Escamillio couldn’t add spice to the evening. The writing made use of his talents, but it’s inflection, flamenco Spanish, never quite convinced. If anything he should have been more over the top, sharper in line, hands a little more crisp, arms and gesture more explosive. In summary a ballet as uneven as the Andalusian hills. Just not as good as I hoped.

Viscera: 7/10

Faun: 9


Carmen: 6

Overall: an unmathematical 8ish


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