The World We Live In

The Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill is a rare combination of three recent ballets,  all done by living choreographers. It includes young Jonathan Watkins’ brand new piece As One. Here’s what each Bag Lady thought of his vibrant debut in the Covent Garden main stage: 

Artists of The Royal Ballet in As One. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

Emilia says:

If you still don’t have a ticket for this week’s two final performances of As One then I suggest you grab one. Jonathan Watkins’ debut in the main stage is one of those myth busting pieces which prove that ballet can be fresh and topical.

As One tackles our modern lives and environment. It deals with the way we move in society circles and in the intimacy of our homes, from our personal obsessions to the questioning of  our surroundings and what we are waiting for in our lives. 

Linda says:

If ballet is to evolve and attract new audiences, big companies must take chances and call upon young choreographers and fresh ideas. First Artist Jonathan Watkins is a budding choreographer whose CV includes a few successful pieces for smaller stages (The Linbury and The Royal Ballet School). This season he was finally given the opportunity to work in the main stage. The result is As One, a reflection on our lives and how we sometimes forget to look outside ourselves.

Edward Watson and Laura Morera in The Royal Ballet's As One. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

It begins with a close up of Laura Morera inside a frame setting out dance motifs of what we are about to see,  her sequence of movements seemingly telling the “story of her life”. In true cinematic style the frame expands and “pans” on a group of dancers in frantic movements and atypical ballet mime which represents smoking, drinking, reading, using a remote control and a blackberry.

This intro sets the tone for each of the various different “slices of life” we’re about to see; in one flat a group of young people are having fun at a party while in another there’s no fun for the channel surfing husband (Edward Watson) and his neglected wife (Morera) who live their lives surrounded by the projection of a giant TV screen. Here and there we can pick up the various contemporary film, stage and literary sources which inspired Watkins (and he did mention George Orwell in a talk he gave about the ballet).  I sensed a nod to film director Darren Aronofsky in the way Watson and Morera move progressively faster to the point where Watson is “zapping” their own lives on his imaginary remote control. Watkins cleverly uses repetitive moves to show that with the passing of time the TV addiction and distancing from real life remain a constant, as in the montage of the woman obsessively cleaning her house in Requiem for a Dream.

There were many things I liked from Watkins’ new piece. From the opening “slice of life” he shows off his potential as a choreographer and storyteller. We see a close-up of Laura Morera in a frame which opens up to reveal a corps of 16 dancers moving and gesturing in sync.  I enjoyed his refreshingly new choreography, his use of classical  movement interlaced with gestures, well-served by Graham Fitkin‘s specially commissioned score.

Throughout the ballet,  Watkins favors the use of solos, notably in two contrasting sections: “What Are We Waiting For” and “Blinkered Living”. In the first Kristen McNally (another budding choreographer) moves slowly in a waiting room agonising about life, etc. while people come, wait for nothing and go through a back door. In the second, Steven McRae moves fast as a City executive-on-acid,  swiftly cruising  through diagonals of multiple-pirouettes. The message here was clear but despite the ability to soar and sizzle in front of a huge trading screen there was not much character development and I felt the choreography somewhat typecast McRae.

In “Channel Surfing” desperate housewife Laura Morera spends much of her stage time behind a couch trying to gain her husband’s attention (a slave to the remote Edward Watson) while “A House Party” has

Steven McRae in The Royal Ballet's As One. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

Certain sections of the ballet might feel undeveloped, such as the concept of a workaholic City trader brilliantly danced by Steven McRae which could have been further explored. Conversely, the ensemble group finale drags on for a while. But on the whole Watkins has delivered a cohesive, well-judged piece which wisely stays away from such modern ballet clichés as over reliance on pas de deux after pas de deux.

He also makes effective use of the corps de ballet who move and jump energetically “As One”. Together they evoke a young urban tribe who, dressed in orange just like in MacMillan’s tribal ballet, perform their own Rite of Spring. This is a thrilling conceptual debut piece which Watkins should be proud of. It rocks. 

a group of friends mingling inside a kitchen at the very back of the stage. I thought  both these sections were less effective in their use of the big stage. Much of the dancing was obstructed by props and scenery and while it’s a great idea to show different pictures of life through dance,  some of the messages were over delivered or unclear.

The closer is more bittersweet than optimistic (the choreography leaves it quite ambiguous), but the music definitely suggests something uplifting. Here Watson, Morera, McRae and McNally join the corps and become As One. Framed by a huge box we see individuals and duets “joining the party”. The work makes effective use of dance and energy and, overall, we get the sense that Watkins knows how to create dance  which is relevant to modern audiences.

Artists of The Royal Ballet in As One. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

This triple bill is complemented by Brandstrup‘s Rushes – Fragments of a Lost Story and McGregor‘s Infra. Combining Prokofiev’s restored Queen of Spades score with Brandstrup’s cinematic narrative, Rushes features a very strong Laura Morera (in double duty tonight) playing femme fatale to Carlos Acosta‘s Dostoevskian fool while the always lovely Alina Cojocaru pines for his attentions. McGregor’s Infra is a welcome revival and has Sarah Lamb bringing her own lyrical qualities to Lauren Cuthbertson‘s original role as well as Marianela Nuñez and Edward Watson’s closing pas de deux which lingers for long after the curtain closes.

As One / Rushes – Fragments of a Lost Story / Infra continues until this Thursday 4 March. For booking details visit the ROH Website.

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