A few months ago Tamara Rojo participated in a live discussion with psychoanalyst Luis Rodríguez de la Sierra about the relationship between ballet and psychoanalysis. During the talk they examined various themes within classical and modern ballet and compared the choreographic process with psychoanalysis. It was an interesting debate – and you can listen to it via audio stream [link] – which revealed to the audience, probably more used to Rojo expressing herself via dance rather than speech, the full extent of her vivid intelligence, the love she has for her art and the devotion to every role she undertakes. She is very much a thinking man’s ballerina.
It is no surprise then that she approached Kim Brandstrup with an idea for a collaboration that would result in the first work of the Royal Ballet’s new season, The Goldberg project, an intriguing piece set to Bach’s namesake variations (handpicked by Rojo and Brandstrup) with an interesting semi-narrative of “dancers going about their routine in a dance studio”. Added to this outline are some symbols: windows and doors that open and close, ladder, tv, music, modern and classical dancers, presence and absence, plenty of psychoanalytical material for the audience to draw their own conclusions. Besides Rojo, the central figures are her men: Thomas Whitehead and Steven McRae, one very much real, domineering and the other, almost like a divine presence, unseen by all but felt by Rojo.
The work made me think of Wim Wenders’s Wings of Desire, in its contrast between our own reality, its frustrations and the allure of a different world which outsiders idealize just like Wim’s angels look at humans. As the tension between Rojo and Whitehead mounts and a team of modern dancers execute steps which are decidedly earthly, grounded, Steven McRae is their “outsider/angel” counterpoint: he takes a backseat by the piano, he turns the pages for the pianist only letting us glimpse at his fluid, fast, ethereal moves when the others leave the studio. Like a male version of La Sylphide he watches over Rojo while she sleeps, he wants to but can’t bring himself to touch her until the climax when they both dance a pas de deux full of possibilities, in contrast to the raw, frustrating relationship Rojo and Whitehead portray in their duets.
Despite Bach’s complex Goldberg variations being a clever choice to speak of routine and difficult relationships I still lamented its use. I am not a fan of choreography set to Bach’s tidy and well structured music and I missed the highs and lows which composers from later periods provide. I did not warm up to the hip hop & modern dancing either. The idea of contrasting classical and non classical is very interesting in principle and relevant to the narrative but in reality the modern steps failed to make as strong an impact as Thomas/Tamara/Steven. The evening really belonged to them.