Review: Royal Ballet - Draft Works

Performance: 24 -26 February, 2015
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 27 February 2015

Anna Rose O'Sullivan & Luca Acri in Marcelino Sambé's 'Dez Days' ©ROH, 2015. 
Photo: Andrej Uspenski

Performance reviewed: 24 February 2015

It must be said that this year’s iteration of Draft Works – the annual platform for Royal Ballet dancers to display their choreographic skills – began with an own goal. There has, rightly, been so much attention on the lack of opportunity for female choreographers in the world of ballet that one would have thought the powers-that-be in the company would have moved heaven and earth to ensure that at least one work in this show was made by a woman.

As it happened, The Royal Ballet followed up English National Ballet’s announcement, just last week, that it would programme an evening of work by three female choreographers in the 2015/16 season with a programme of five draft works…..all by young men. It isn’t progress. It isn’t even parity because several women in the company have had their work included in this showcase in recent years. In what appeared to be a desperate attempt at a goal-line clearance, one of the most talented of that rare breed, Kristen McNally – whose interesting and quirky work has featured in Draft Works for several consecutive years – was given the consolation role of being the evening’s host presenter. She did a decent job with a laid-back and refreshing interviewing persona although each pre-performance interview was too long, too “lovey” and not especially illuminating. A programme of around 75 minutes’ duration was about one-third, friendly banter.

It was also ironic that the opening number was effectively a Second Draft, since it had premiered in the Resolution! Festival, at The Place, just four evenings previously. It also came not from a member of the company, but a guest (who, if memory serves me correctly, had a piece in last year’s event, too). Canadian choreographer, Joshua Beamish has already made a name for himself in New York, choreographing for some wonderful dancers (most notably Wendy Whelan and Ashley Bouder). It was Whelan that brought him across the Atlantic with her Restless Creature project, last year, and it appears that he has stayed around The Royal Opera House ever since.

His male duet for Matthew Ball and Nicol Edmonds – both of whom have made debuts as the ill-fated poet, Lensky, in John Cranko’s Onegin, this season – was very busy in choreography that appeared to respond to every note in Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G Minor with a movement. The early interaction between the two guys lacked flow in its cluttered complexity and it didn’t appear to suit having an audience configured on two sides of the stage: its premiere at The Place had taken place in the more traditional environment of the audience as a “fourth wall”. Ball and Edmonds brought both an earnest intimacy and impressive stamina to proceedings, which I saw as a duet between Lensky and his restless spirit. A fanciful interpretation but one that nonetheless fitted the yearning sense of an unfulfilled, troubled connection between the two protagonists.

The three succeeding pieces rather fell into each other in terms of their overt classicism. Valentino Zucchetti’s Elégie Du Souvenir was distinguished in its impact by the use of live musicians (pianist and cellist) playing Sergey Rachmaninoff’s Elégie. Fumi Kaneko and Tristan Dyer provided a sweetly romantic pairing and Zucchetti’s lush choreography interpreted the music with a stylish flourish. The same strength of musicality was inherent to Erico Montes*’ choreography in his interpretation of the first three of Bach’s Goldberg Variations (played live on the piano by *Paul Stobart). Montes’ work was subtly enhanced by the central role of the outstanding Akane Takada – always a delight to see – performing alongside two young men who acquitted themselves well as her alternate partners, David Donnelly and Benjamin Ella.

Sandwiched between these works was an ensemble piece entitled L’Autre Côté by Sander Blommaert (created to the music of Max Richter’s On The Nature of Daylight) for nine dancers. I greatly admired the mix of attack and lyricism from Camille Bracher in the central role and my eye was continually drawn to the enigmatic expression of Maria Barroso among the supporting cast. It had a diverse structure of group dances and solos but to be frank, I found it hard to recall any outstanding movement motifs on the way home.

If Kristin McNally was unable to be represented in the choreography, she was at least captured in zany spirit by the final choreographer Marcelino Sambé who brought all his Brazilian rhythm and energy – not to mention his personal collection of garishly coloured Hawaiian shirts – to another group piece, which was like the after-party of the Copacabana beach volleyball championships, minus the sand. A very busy Matthew Ball appeared in his third work of the evening and Barroso returned for a second stint. Anna Rose O’Sullivan added zesty charisma to enhance her colourful shirt!

It is great to see The Royal Ballet continuing to give such prominence to emerging choreography from within the ranks of its dancers. The established choreographers making new work for the company on the main stage (Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon, Liam Scarlett, Alastair Marriott, Kim Brandstrup and William Tuckett) are all guys and it is a shame that the next generation – by this count – are now also a men-only group. If ever there were an argument for positive discrimination, it has to be here. If a female dancer is injured and needs a few weeks off then the company has to cope: next year, I hope that the company will arrange workloads so that McNally or another of the women will have the chance to make a piece!

Photos: Andrej Uspenski

Graham Watts is a freelance dance writer and critic. He writes for Dancing Times, Dance Europe, Shinshokan Dance Magazine in Japan,, and other magazines and websites in Europe and the USA. He is Chairman of the Dance Section of the Critics’ Circle and of the National Dance Awards in the UK. Find him on Twitter @GWDanceWriter

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