McGregor’s Six Best Works for the Royal Ballet

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Infra

The Royal Ballet is celebrating Wayne McGregor’s ten year anniversary as Resident Choreographer, with the 2016-2017 season featuring two all-McGregor evenings. Earlier in the season, we had a triple bill that featured a special revival of Chroma (with fab guests from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre); the world premiere of Multiverse, and a welcome revival of Carbon Life. This month, Woolf Works returns with two very special guests: Alessandra Ferri and Mara Galeazzi.

With so much McGregor, I was inspired to look back at the good, the awesome and the “thanks, but no thanks!” Note that I am only including here works McGregor created for The Royal Ballet, while I am, of course, aware that he has choreographed on many other great companies around the world and that his rep is performed by a wide range of dance companies.

Please do contribute your own McGregor favorites from the RB or elsewhere in the comments section, we’d love to read your reactions. Here are our Super Six:

Woolf Works. Photo: © Alice Pennefather. Courtesy of ROH.

Woolf Works. Photo: © Alice Pennefather. Courtesy of ROH.

6. I Now, I Then (from Woolf Works)

Loosely based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this section centres around a day in the life of the title character (danced by Ferri/Galeazzi). As she looks back at her life, family, friends and lovers, characters appear and disappear in a sequence of vignettes. Duets and solos develop to Max Richter’s melancholic score. Possibly McGregor’s clearest “narrative” ballet to date, and certainly his most nuanced.

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Carbon Life.

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Carbon Life. Photo: © Alice Pennefather. Courtesy of ROH.

5. Carbon Life

How shall I describe McGregor’s pop-tastic collaboration with musicians Mark Ronson, Andrew Wyatt and designer Gareth Pugh? Well, Carbon Life is super F-U-N! Certainly more akin to a live-gig than ballet, we get to see McGregor at his most playful, deploying striking choreographic patterns for a sizeable corps de ballet (shocking!), who let their limbs loose to Boy George and Alison Mosshart (at the premiere). Singalong-able music, an amazing light display by Lucy Carter and edgy fashion by Pugh complete the bill. The whole thing is a fab night out.

Matthew Ball and Calvin Richardson in Obsidian Tear

Matthew Ball and Calvin Richardson in Obsidian Tear. Photo: © Andrej Uspenski. Courtesy of ROH.

4. Obsidian Tear

Featuring an all-male cast and set to violin pieces by Esa-Pekka Salonen, this work (which would be ideally paired with Symposium if the Royal Ballet ever did Ratmansky again…) is an exploration of gender through duets that veer from confrontations to more traditionally-looking pas de deux. Here one also notices new developments in McGregor’s movement – less hyper extensions, more fluid dancing. Bonus points? This was also the piece that brought Calvin Richardson to our radar.

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Chroma

Artists of The Royal Ballet and Alvin Ailey in Chroma. Photo: © Alice Pennefather. Courtesy of ROH.

3. Chroma

What can we say of McGregor’s first work for the Royal Ballet? The minimalist set by John Pawson, the brilliant music by Joby Talbot & The White Stripes… we love it so much we covered it as a guest blog for The Australian Ballet a few seasons ago. Chroma is striking: it was part of a very special time in the RB repertory, and one never forgets seeing it for the first time.

This was the piece that properly introduced McGregor’s identifiable language of hyper-extended limbs, speedy changes and sharp attack to the company, not to mention a long lasting tradition of casting all of Edward Watson, Steven McRae and Eric Underwood in most McGregors. Chroma has gone on to become one of the choreographer’s most successful and widely-performed works. Call us Chroma-addicts but our dream is to see it performed by at least 6 different dance companies in one single evening.

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Infra

Artists of The Royal Ballet in Infra. Photo: © Bill Cooper. Courtesy of ROH.

2.  Infra

If you tend to think of McGregor’s work as too “cerebral” and lacking in balletic emotion, then this is the one we recommend you. This collaboration with Max Richter is full of heart, with snapshots of city life that are brimming with humanity.

People go through their lives, continuously changing through interactions with others. Relationships emerge and disintegrate. At one point, a lonely woman breaks down in tears in the midst of a crowd, but around her the unrelenting pace of life continues, and so she stands up and moves on. This Balanchine-in-Serenade moment of McGregor feels en pointe and true to life.

Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli in Tuesday (from Woolf Works)

Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli in Tuesday (from Woolf Works). Photo: © Alice Pennefather

1.  Tuesday (from Woolf Works) 

Based on Woolf’s The Waves, Tuesday opens with a reading of the author’s suicide note to her husband. Underneath a video projection of breaking waves (in slow motion), Alexandra Ferri (or Mara Galeazzi) dances with her grieving partner (or is it death?), to the gentle sounds of the sea. Children play, and a corps de ballet slowly emerges and unfurls in evocative patterns.

A meditation of life and death, the work wouldn’t be as powerful if it didn’t have a mature woman at its centre, and Ferri dotes it with grace and intelligence. If ballet is to stay relevant, it needs to show stories about people of all ages & backgrounds, like McGregor does here. We think he was particularly inspired when he created Tuesday (and also in I Now, I Then): it is thrilling, moving, unforgettable.


Thanks, but no thanks (only for McGregor completists in our view):

- Multiverse

- Live Fire Exercise

- Tetractys

- Raven Girl

Her favourite ballets feel like good books – one can see them 1,000 times and they always feel fresh. Linda loves Giselle, all full-length MacMillan plus Song of the Earth, Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering, Balanchine’s Serenade and Agon, Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet and Symphonic Variations.


  • February 18, 2017

    Mafalda Tenente

    Kairos, the collaboration with Ballett Zürich was a wonderful production and among my favorites. I really enjoyed Raven Girl, with Beatriz Stix-Brunell in the main role, would not have placed it on the “completists” list only.

  • February 3, 2017

    Lauren Darina

    Those three for me too, plus Friday from Woolf Works. I also quite liked what McGregor did with Acis and Galatea and wish it would be revived at the ROH.

  • February 3, 2017


    Chroma Infra Obsidian Tear