Review: Sampling The Myth – Deloitte Ignite Festival - Royal Opera House

Performance: 5 - 7 September 2014
Reviewed by Siobhan Murphy - Monday 8 September 2014

Edward Watson and Liam Mower in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake. Photo: Alice Pennefather, ©ROH 2014

Performance reviewed: 5 September

The Royal Opera House thrums with activity for its annual Deloitte Ignite season open weekend, this year revolving around the theme of mythology and its artistic interpretations. It’s certainly a rich seam to mine, as opening dance event Sampling The Myth clearly demonstrates… rather to its detriment. The reassuring gravitas of Marina Warner’s narration links a series of snippets from classic ballets, short new works on stage and on film – eleven in all, in an hour and 50 minutes; the dance equivalent of an overflowing pick’n’mix sweetie bag, that leaves you rather sugar-dazed by the end.

Myths, Professor Warner tells us, are stories that keep posing questions; ambiguous, inconsistent, volatile and always open to retelling. This last point is most clearly made with the three film performances, which all examine the tale of Leda and the Swan, in which king of the gods Zeus disguises himself as a bird and rapes Leda. Most arresting among them is Kim Brandstrup’s offering, where Zenaida Yanowsky is at first grabbed, grappled and whirled into submission by Tommy Franzen’s Swan, then, in a Part Two, comes across a sleeping Franzen and coaxes his somnolent form into her embraces, playing slightly disturbingly with instincts of desire and maternal love before a startling closing image of her lying prone and holding Franzen aloft on her shins. The camerawork is close, the combination of Yanowsky’s long form and Franzen’s compact dynamism is explosive.

The live performances offer a chance to see Royal Ballet principals on an intimate stage. Sticking with the swan theme, Marianela Nunez’s The Dying Swan could do with feeling a bit more anguish, but Ed Watson’s interpretation of Matthew Bourne’s famously male Swan is a gripping highlight of the evening. Watson may be best known for playing ‘weird’ characters but here seems to physically expand with alpha maleness as he first rejects Liam Mower’s Prince with a haughty flick of his foot, then claims him with utter assurance, stalking up to him, hands shaped like an arrowing beak in front of his face, and oozing dominance.

Snippets of works, seen unanchored from their full pieces, often feel frustratingly insubstantial, but one that actually benefits from its isolation is the pas de deux from Wayne McGregor’s dubious Raven Girl. Shorn of its unwieldly, confusing storyline, it’s a rather enchanting meeting of bodies, particularly in the hands of Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood, who find an alluring, fluid rhythm together as a couple, with his strength and calm contemplation a perfect foil for her extreme flexibility.

The bird in myth focus would have been good to stick to, but we veer off rather randomly into other territory as well: Ondine; Apollo; and a fantastic evocation of the Fates in Rambert dancer Miguel Altunaga’s Dark Eye, which packs the menace of a Goya painting into its twitchy, broiling, skittering choreography and scratchy accompanying music.

The finale is the much-anticipated Unearthed, with Royal Ballet dancers daubed in Chris Ofili’s hand-painted designs as they work through Aaskash Odedra’s interpretation of the Prometheus myth. You can feel certain correlations between the wild reaches of imagination and stark, sharp shapes here and those of The Firebird, a segment of which was used to open the evening: it’s as though Fokine and Matthew Barney collided as the eight extraordinarily decorated dancers play with the nervous energy of the piece (driven by Talvin Singh’s score) and the powerful sense of display. The more intricate details of Ofili’s colour-saturated designs are largely lost at distance, but as they smear and come off dancers in clouds they add to the potent sense of transformation that Odedra works with here, whether through Prometheus modelling his clay man, or the varieties of fire playing around this newly formed human. Static holds combine with scurrying pas de bourree steps in a kathak-meets-classical ballet choreography that’s hard to pin down. In many ways it’s alarmingly odd – but in such a manner that you leave feeling it would be fun to tackle it again.

Deloitte Ignite: Myth, curated by The Royal Ballet in collaboration with the National Gallery curator Dr Minna Moore Ede continues at the Royal Opera House until Sunday 28 September.
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Photos: Alice Pennefather, courtesy Royal Opera House

Siobhan Murphy is a freelance writer and editor. She was until recently Arts Editor of Metro and also contributes to Find her on Twitter @blacktigerlily

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