Review: Royal Ballet in Electric Counterpoint/ Afternoon of a Faun/ Tzigane/ A Month in the Country at Royal Opera House

Performance: 28 Feb, 4, 5, 11, & 19 March
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 4 March 2008

Performance: 28 February 2008

Christopher Wheeldon’s ‘Electric Counterpoint’ packs a lot into 30 minutes, effectively combining two ballets, as represented by the polarising segregation of music by Bach and Reich. The opening section brings four dancers (Sarah Lamb, Eric Underwood, Ed Watson and Zenaida Yanowsky) to the stage in turn; performing against a video projection of themselves, whilst their voices are heard describing their feelings about dance. We seem to be observing a documentary being performed live on stage, contradicted by the paradox that much of what we witness isn’t live.

Michael Nunn and William Trevitt‘s digital video artistry is very effective; the concept of creating a corps de ballet from the multiple projections of the four soloists was interesting, if not a worrying foretaste of what the future might hold – just imagine the Arts Council cuts to come! Also, the tall Yanowsky apparently performing hand-in-hand with a huge version of herself seemed to be saying something deliberately ironic.

The worst element of the work is in the dancers’ own words, many of which are (perhaps, deliberately) clichéd. Whatever the intention, it appears as self-indulgent elitism; the glib comments of the dancers at odds with the beauty of their movement. Wheeldon’s delightful – and exceptionally well performed – choreography is subtle, intelligently crafted and perfectly paced with both the Bach and the complex yet monotonous layers of Reich but it comes last in the review of this world premiere precisely because his steps are overshadowed by the heavy context in which they figure.

Afternoon of a Faun’ and *‘Tzigane’ are slight works that provide a pleasant interlude, garnishing the main fare. The latter was the other work new to the company. *Balanchine created it late in his career as a vehicle for Suzanne Farrell and she has staged it for the Royal, so it comes with the most impeccable provenance. Tziganes are Austro-Hungarian gypsies and Balanchine uses Ravel’*s music for violin and piano to create a joyful gypsy dance, the longest part of which is an exhilarating opening solo (stylishly danced here by *Marianella Nuñez). The lively boisterousness of ‘Tzigane‘ is a perfect foil for the languorous, sunny afternoon daydreams of the ‘Faun’.

The programme concludes with Ashton’*s /strong>‘A Month in the Country’; a brief narrative ballet based on Turgenev’s eponymous play. This represents the heartland of the Royal Ballet’s own indigenous being and it was excellent to see the company’s most recently recruited Principal, *Alexandra Ansanelli (lately of the New York City Ballet) coping admirably with Ashton’s style, with lovely upper body flexibility, ports de bras and neat, fleet steps. So the ultimate counterpoint was the juxtaposition of the Royal coping with ballets made by Balanchine and Robbins in New York set against a native New Yorker mastering the quintessential British style.

These four works are strange bedfellows; each has its own merit, but the logic for putting them together in one mixed programme is impenetrable. Taken together they provide a journey from hallucinatory electronic dreams to the mannered sensibilities of country house life. The product of this artistic spread-betting will be that few are likely to enjoy the whole programme but there should, at least, be something to satisfy every taste.

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