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

Performance: 28 February 2008
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Sunday 16 March 2008

Electric Counterpoint – talk about a cliché. The concepts for this work slapped audience members in the face at the Opera House as they were offered a below par multi-media show coupled with a clichéd voiceover of how it feels to be a dancer. Thank god Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography was sound and the dancers’ sublime, or the theatre would have quickly emptied.

It is difficult to imagine why Wheeldon would have taken his promise to create more accessible work for today’s audience so literally – but there it was displayed on stage at the world premiere on the 28th February.

The four dancers who were heavily involved in the creation of this work are among the best you can get – Sarah Lamb, Eric Underwood, Ed Watson and Zenaida Yanowsky. The initial solos introduced each dancer, as they danced with their own projected images, all well choreographed and beautiful to watch. However, surely we are past the days of a dancer removing her tutu on stage to reveal the person beneath.

The projections supplied by Michael Nunn and William Trevitt (aka the Ballet Boyz) were dated in appearance, although the technology used could have been as revolutionary to ballet as the pointe shoe or electric lights. The decision to create a corpse de ballet of digital dancers looked like a Gap advert gone wildly wrong, with none of the Busby Berkeley class that was introduced to dance decades prior to this premiere.

Once you looked through the projections of dancers legs in second – from which the live dancers kept emerging – the true potential of this choreography emerged. The luxurious duets took your breathe away, as the couples connected with one another.

With much revision on the technical side this could be a winning choreography, as the impact of the steps alone was enough to make audiences sit up and take an interest in ballet. But, if the voiceovers remain – with the dancers thoughts coming across as if they are whining about the difficulties of their profession – then this will only distance new audiences further.

The rest of the evening passed in a display of choreographic styles. The short duet, Afternoon of a Faun, was well received by the audience. The work was tender and finely executed, like a short day dream; as Sarah Lamb and Carlos Acosta caught sight of each other in their mirror in this timeless classic by Jerome Robbins.

Balanchines’ Tzigane, a new work for the Royal Ballet, was another pleasant piece, which demonstrated the romantic side of his work rather than the more celebrated plotless ballets.

Ending the evening was Ashton’s A Month in the Country, a choreography so brimming with Englishness that you expect the Queen to have a walk on part. The Royal Ballet has performed this work on countless occasions, playing out the unfortunate tale of a bored house wife who falls for her son’s tutor; a man lusted after by every female in the house. The tutor played by Ivan Putrov was one of the best characterisations of this role to date, however Alexandra Ansanelli, as the house wife, gave a more melodramatic than emotional performance.

This bill presented a real mixture of highs and lows, but the company’s courage to try new things deserves a standing ovation. However, it is time to truly look forward for the new rather than taking baby steps along a well trodden path.

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