Review: Royal Ballet - Obsidian Tear | The Invitation | Within the Golden Hour - Royal Opera House
Performance reviewed: 28 May
The Royal Ballet heads to Japan next month; its parting shot for this season is a curiously curated triple bill comprised of one world premiere, the retrieval of a work only just off the Covent Garden stage, and a revival that’s not been seen for 20 years.
Wayne McGregor’s new piece, Obsidian Tear, is the first Royal Ballet piece to have been created on an all-male cast. It’s inspired by and danced to two works by the Finnish composer Esa-Pekka Salonen (who conducts for three performances), the symphonic Nyx and the yearning violin solo Lachen Verlernt.
It’s a curious piece, flitting between robust maleness, cool androgyny, and tender sensuality. The nine dancers are decked out in a selection of designer trousers and skirts (Edward Watson in a dress is particularly striking); but what narrative there is centres around a red-trousered initiate (Calvin Richardson) and his friend/mentor (Matthew Ball). The pair dance a jabbing, rippling, at times anxious opening duet, with flashes of machismo (a matador’s strike pose; a flamenco dancer’s snaps and torso slaps) and gentle rapport.
Then, as Salonen’s Nyx kicks in, the pair join the rest of the group/tribe – and, even before Watson’s high priest-like figure starts prowling along a red-lit, lava-like strip at the front of the stage, it’s pretty clear everything’s about to go very Rite of Spring/Temple of Doom.
It’s a striking exploration of male power dynamics, as the new arrivals are prodded and assessed, accepted or rejected. But at times it wears its intellectual approach rather too heavily; McGregor’s intriguing ambiguities don’t leave enough space for the raw, frightening energy that would electrify Obsidian Tear. This is, however, a fascinating showcase for some of the Royal Ballet’s male dancers that don’t normally command the spotlight – and they acquit themselves admirably, embracing McGregor’s jagged, challenging choreography, which more than ever teeters on the cusp of classical and contemporary.
Kenneth McMillan’s The Invitation follows, and what a harrowing experience it is. Created in 1960, its setting is a tropical country at the turn of the last century – the lush greens of John Read’s lighting give the stage a suffocating, underwater feel. A sense of things being slightly off-kilter prevails everywhere, and as Francesca Hayward’s innocent Girl is bullied by her classmates you know her fate is sealed, despite the gawkily tender ministrations of her cousin/beau (Vadim Muntagirov).
Enter Gary Avis and Zenaida Yanowsky as the desperately unhappy Husband and Wife: Yanowsky’s wiredrawn agonies of rejection crash against Avis’s brutal dismissals in their first powerful push-pull pas de deux. Then Avis, gliding around the stage in a shark-grey suit, zeroes in on Hayward’s lonely, needy Girl, and Yanowsky seeks comfort from Muntagirov – with predictably awful results. Macmillan infuses The Invitation with the sense of debauched baccanale: couples steal clinches in the shadows; the adults’ evening ‘entertainment’ is two boy ‘fighting cocks’ and a girl ‘chicken’ in showgirl plumage). Hayward and Muntagirov are wonderful at vacillating between coy childishness and a burgeoning awareness of the power of their sexuality. The rape scene is shocking, not least because feather-light Hayward is flung with such force that she seems to break. She ends up draped round Avis’s waist, before slowly slipping to a crumpled heap on the floor.
But a lot of the power of MacMillan’s piece lies in the fact that he won’t let us off the hook by painting the Husband as a stock villain; Avis’s nuanced performance mean we see how he’s misinterpreted the Girl’s flirtations, and have to deal with his despair after the event, even as Hayward stumbles, shattered and filled with shame, across the stage behind him.
After that emotional wringer, it’s quite a wrench to go into Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, which was part of the very recent Wheeldon celebratory mixed bill. It acts like a soothing balm, though, as Wheeldon’s beautiful neo-classical abstractions play out against a shifting backdrop of colours that seem to power the dance itself. The three pivotal pas de deux are fluid, fascinating, and play delightfully with off-axis holds; the group dynamics can be reminiscent of DGV’s surge, bustle and detail.
Continues 31 May, 3, 4 & 11 June 2016
Main photo: Matthew Ball, Calvin Richardson & Edward Watson in Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear. ©ROH 2016. by Andrej Uspenski
Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor, who also contributes to Dancetabs and Time Out. Twitter @blacktigerlily
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