Just over a year ago I was sitting at the Alina Cojocaru gala at the QEH with my jaw wide open: there were four Basilios (Johan Kobborg, Marian Walter, Daniel Ulbricht and Sergei Polunin) plus 2 Kitris (Alina Cojocaru and Roberta Marquez) taking turns in the Don Quixote variations. Whilst the four men spun simultaneous tours a la seconde (turns with one of the legs open and stretched on the side) I thought: how could this ever be topped as a gala party piece?
Cue “Les Lutins”, a new choreography by Johan Kobborg for the “Royal Ballet at the Linbury Studio” series. it matches virtuoso dancers to virtuosic violin pieces (including “La Ronde des Lutins”) and the result is a burst of dance that I haven’t seen since Ethan Stiefel danced off Sascha Radetsky in Center Stage. It starts with Steven McRae putting his tap dancing skills to good use and as the violin plays faster his Vaudevillian dance turns into a crescendo of dizzying pirouettes, leaps, grand battements, think every bravura step and then some. Brief pause. Now Polunin arrives also dressed in Vaudeville style suspenders and tie (minus cane) to raise the stakes, he shows Steven some of his own tricks, double tours en l’air (or were those triples?) but he is matched and more is thrown into the mix, both trying to impress cute girl Cojocaru who obviously chooses… the violinist! Delicious!
This piece is reason enough to book a ticket for the Linbury (you should hurry, there are only 2 more performances) but the whole evening is great fun. There are quirky pieces such as the one created by Kristen McNally (“Yes we did…”) about Obama fever pitch where the dancers move firmly and anxiously, as if fueled by coffee, “trying to change the course of history”. I loved Thomas Whitehead’s techie geek, typing away at an invisible computer (I can’t recall ever having seen “computer mime” in ballet before) and I think I might even have preferred this piece to brand new “Sensorium” over the main stage. It was daringly different, it was fun and as the programme notes “If you don’t try you’ll never know”.
Many of the other works seem influenced by resident choreographer Wayne McGregor and all the better for it because this hints at a validation of his own style within the company (I can’t be neutral on this topic, I love McGregor’s work). The evening closes with the most eloquent choreography, “Consolations and Liebestraum” by Liam Scarlett, set to Franz Liszt’s namesake piano pieces it shows strained relationships between men and women, some of which are fixable and some of which are doomed. The work is very stylish, the cast is fabulous (Laura Morera, Ricardo Cervera…), especially Tamara Rojo and Bennet Gartside who dance a passionate and moving Pas de Deux. We can’t wait to see Liam Scarlett’s piece for the main stage next season. Ah, and “Les Lutins” at the next Alina/Johan gala of course!