Review: Royal Ballet in ‘Chroma/ The Four Temperaments/ DGV (Danse à grande vitesse) at Royal Opera House

Performance: 17 - 29 Nov
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Monday 20 November 2006

Big nights for the Royal Ballet in recent years have tended to arise from new versions of old classics or the recovery of some lost masterpiece: rare episodes of new work have come and gone without causing much of a splash. So, what a thrill it is to witness the birth of not one, but two sensational new ballets on the same night.

Wayne McGregor’s Chroma and Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV will vie with one another when the year’s accolades for “best new work” are being dispensed. Whilst dramatically different, they share a high octane energy that draws significant force from pulsating scores, dramatic set and lighting designs and a similar choreographic structure built around the interactions of four central couples.

John Pawson’s white, boxed set and the aggression of Jody Talbot’s score give Chroma an immediate impact, effectively articulated by the magnificent equine power and grace of Alina Cojocaru in her opening duet with Edward Watson. Other highlights in McGregor’s box of treats were the pairing of Steven McRae (seemingly borrowed from a De Lempicka painting) and Tamara Rojo; the soft, adagio duet of Federico Bonelli and Sarah Lamb and the rich, undulating elegance of Eric Underwood. McGregor is an intellectual choreographer whose apparently abstract work is always underpinned by a deep rationale (recent works have been studies on a neurological theme). Whatever the strategy, this brilliant collaboration of music, design and choreography needs no explanation.

Music is also key to Wheeldon’s work and his choice of Michael Nyman’s composition MGV (Musique à grande vitesse) is a master stroke. Nyman made it to celebrate the extension of the French high-speed train – the TGV – to the north-east of France in 1993 and it translates brilliantly as a score for the high speed dance of DGV. As well as four stunning duets, Wheeldon creates some memorable patterns for the corps de ballet, with bouncing, waving rhythms from the rear of the stage bringing back echoes of past triumphs (Macmillan’s ‘Rite of Spring’ and Nijinska’s ‘Les Noces’ sprang to mind). Ed Watson and Leanne Benjamin reprised the wonderful sinuous partnership they forged to such great effect in McGregor’s Qualia and the pairing of Gary Avis and Darcey Bussell was also dynamite (his secure, unflinching handling in their high lift entrance and exit was tremendous).

The programme was heaven-sent for Ed Watson, a great partner in the two new works but especially noteworthy in his outstanding performance of the third (phlegmatic) variation in Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments. His deep back bends and slow stretches exactly articulated the temperament intended by Balanchine. Slava Samodurov was also excellent in the Melancholic solo and Darcey Bussell is always an authentic interpreter of Balanchine’s style. However, elsewhere, there were parts that looked under-rehearsed, not achieving the same standards of excellence.

Having commissioned two outstanding new works, it’s a shame that the Opera House management did not have the courage to programme more than five performances. I would like to say go and see it, but this meagre schedule is now sold out. Repertory comes and goes and change is always necessary but I hope that these will stay around for some time to come.

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