Houses of the Holy

In an interesting piece for The new Criterion novelist Laura James recently debated the watering-down of meaning and depth in modern ballet, arguing that:

If these dances were houses, no one would be able to live in them. And no one does.

I think I might like to live inside Chroma though. Just for a little while. Think of how dreamlike the experience would be, like throwing an indie rock party in a zen space, where the energetic sound of The White Stripes challenges and yet perfectly blends in with John Pawson’s cool oriental minimalism. Several seasons later this Wayne McGregor gem of sharp contrasts still retains the power to mesmerise and engage. In this house the dancers create the décor with shapes of impossible beauty and plenty of character. Individually there’s emphasis on the pencil-drawn lines of Ed Watson and Mara Galeazzi, the classicism of Sarah Lamb and the turbo-speed of Steven McRae but perhaps Chroma is at its most involving when all dancers meet, finding a way to co-exist within the confines of that space. I think it is the coolest, most exciting music box ever conceived.

Steven McRae and Tamara Rojo in Wayne McGregor's Chroma. Photo: Johan Persson / ROH ©

Together with Wheeldon’s Tryst and Balanchine’s Symphony in C, Chroma forms part of The Royal Ballet’s final mixed bill of the season. This program seems designed to showcase “strength in numbers”; a last chance to admire the entire company before they leave for Japan on tour. For the audience it is interesting to see how the evening evolves from the organic group language of Chroma to the slightly more formal moves of Christopher Wheeldon‘s Tryst, culminating with Balanchine’s ultra structured patterns.

Whereas McGregor entirely breaks with convention, revisiting classical language here and there in his choreography (notably in the Sarah Lamb & Ricardo Cervera Pas de Deux), Wheeldon seems to do the opposite with Tryst. He uses classical ballet as his vocabulary only breaking from it in certain key moments for effect. He employs turned-in positions, flexed feet and arms, curved backs to create interesting shapes. These shapes, we are told, are representative of the Scottish Highlands (where Wheeldon first heard composer James MacMillan‘s score). Arms and torsos invoke tree branches and foliage. Wheeldon often lowers his dancers to the floor, as he does in the central Pas de Deux, beautifully danced by Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood. Here Greek deities are also thrown into the mix, though I wonder whether these elements from Wheeldon’s inspiration board might not entirely elude non programme-buying audiences.

Left: Melissa Hamilton. Right: Eric Underwood and Melissa Hamilton in Christopher Wheeldon's Tryst. Photos: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

There are certainly no mythological references in Symphony in C. The piece really is about dance; about how ballet steps integrate with the music. Going from Chroma into Symphony in C is like moving from your minimalist Feng Shui’d house into a 19th century mansion, with formal and courtly manners taking over from your indie rock antics. Polar opposites they may be, but with elements in common. As McGregor responds to his dancers’ bodies, so did Mr B. who choreographed roles to suit the specific abilities of his ballerinas. In the first movement we marvel at control; the transition from speedy turns to the steely line of an arabesque, in the second the grandeur of adagio dancing, with the third and fourth comes an explosion of collective energy and pizzazz.

Symphony in C is not only testing for its leading couples,  it is also a challenge for the corps de ballet who need to dance in perfect sync and observe ruler-measured patterns. The piece is strongly cast in this revival, with the four leads distributed amongst Principals and First Soloists. In the third movement Sergei Polunin has the opportunity to show off his freeze-frame jump, while Laura Morera dazzles with her pirouettes in the fourth. All dancers commit their bodies and souls to meet the piece’s demands of discipline and precision, but Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather – lush and dreamy in the adagio section – find a way to also throw in their hearts.

Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather in the 2nd Movement of Balanchine's Symphony in C. Photo: Bill Cooper / ROH ©

Likes ballets that taste like 85% cocoa: pure, extra bitter, dark or intense. Her favorites are La Sylphide, Manon, Mayerling, Ondine, Symphonic Variations and McGregor's Chroma. Her favorite Ratmansky ballets are: The Little Humpbacked Horse, Russian Seasons, Cinderella and The Shostakovich Trilogy. She is always ready to chase new Ratmanskys around the globe. Non ballet: literature, theatre, opera, rock, art, food, travel, fashion, translating and interpreting.

1 Comment

  • October 1, 2010

    The Royal Ballet's Onegins

    [...] appearance in the last bill before the company’s tour to Japan, partnering Sarah Lamb in Wayne McGregor’s Chroma. He has danced Lensky before but is now ready for a big comeback debuting as Onegin opposite Laura [...]