King of the Rodeo

Helen Crawford and Bennet Gartside on the cover of the New Works in The Linbury Programme. ROH ©

One of our favorite things in The Royal Ballet season is the opportunity to catch their “New Works” by emerging choreographers (usually in-House talent) in the smaller space of the Linbury Studio Theatre. With tickets at a top price of £18 this is a chance to see what the future of ballet looks like.

Last year’s works were an interesting mix of pieces influenced by the dance language of resident choreographer Wayne McGregor, pure classical ballet (Liam Scarlett and Johan Kobborg‘s ballets) and Kristen McNally’s ultra original Obama speech-inspired one.

This year again McNally re-emerges as my favorite.  Her 10-minute “indie ballet” is entitled Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game. It  focuses on her male muse Thomas Whitehead and, as per Kristen’s recent interview for, purports to be:

a comment on celebrity and people’s behaviour and willingness to follow when presented with a perceived ideal

Dressed in a stylish black suit and skinny tie, Whitehead immediately transported me to Quentin Tarantino territory. He fidgets about like Mr. Pink, the self-doubting neurotic gangster in Reservoir Dogs and his stage persona also had a dash of  Pulp Fiction’s Vincent Vega. To the sound of 30 Seconds to Mars combined with bits of Morricone & etc., Whitehead moves and questions his identity and environment, like a fish out of water lost in a night out at Camden’s Barfly. Three vixen-like women come by in their high heels breaking our antihero with Swan Lake-arms but no Pas de Deux. This was refreshing, creative, well danced, well characterized. I hope to see McNally graduate to the big stage of the ROH sooner rather than later, especially if that means she can finally choreograph a piece to the sound of Kings of Leon, a wish she has expressed in the above-linked interview.

The other five pieces were altogether more conventional. I thought Ludovic Ondiviela’s Duplicity – centered around the premise that individuals can only come together if they “shed their masks” – was a nice calling card for two talents to watch in the company; corps dancer Claire Calvert looked exquisite alongside soloist Ryoichi Hirano. Vanessa Fenton’s One Shade the More tapped into classical ballet and leveraged off Roberta Marquez and Steven McRae’s chemistry to feature a tender central duet and themes of longing and death.  I liked the use of courtly dances and the tarpaulin-cloth long gowns worn by Melissa Hamilton and Mara Galeazzi in Slava Samodurov’s parody piece Trip Trac, but felt that the choreography should have explored these “trash meets chic” moments further.

The evening closed with Erico Montes’s Hallelujah Junction. John Adam’s score is a constant dialogue between two pianos and their sustained rhythms. It evokes a journey that never stops, as never do Montes’s dancers (Sergei Polunin, Jonathan Watkins, Bennet Gartside, Kenta Kura and Helen Crawford). One wonders how they cope with such heavy choreographic demands of musicality, stamina and precision. While Crawford fiercely circles the stage, the men execute turns, jumps and successive waves of beaten steps in sync. The piece packs the equivalent of an entire Bournonville ballet in 16 minutes. Or think visions of multiple Albrechts dancing to death. I  hope that by the end of the run this Saturday those heroic dancers will have survived to tell their grandchildren.

The Royal Ballet in New Works: tonight and tomorrow at the Linbury Studio Theatre. For more information & bookings visit the ROH website

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.


  • [...] Royal Ballet’s Kristen McNally presents an extract of her ballet Don’t Hate the Player Hate the Game which premiered last year at the Linbury Studio Theatre. Performed by Thomas [...]

  • [...] Closer to home creative forces like Wayne McGregor, Liam Scarlett and the Royal Ballet’s Kristen McNally (we recommend her well-thought out blog post on the future of narrative ballets) to name but a [...]

  • [...] who could make dance the new rock n’ roll, it’s Kristen McNally. We agree, having raved about her latest work for the Linbury Studio Theatre ourselves. McNally shows that modern ballet can still use narrative threads; that it needn’t [...]