Review: Royal Ballet in Voluntaries/The Lesson/Infra at Royal Opera House

Performance: 13 - 26 Nov 08
Reviewed by Libby Costello - Monday 17 November 2008

The premiere of Infra had a lot to live up to. Dedicated to the Royal Ballet’s Artistic Director, Monica Mason, for her 50th season with the Royal Ballet; filmed for BBC Two (to be broadcast on 22 November) and following McGregor’s much acclaimed Chroma (2006), this work could not be a flop. Happily Infra may be the closest a ballet will come to capturing the essence of a modern city. With a hybrid of classical ballet and Wayne McGregor’s unique vocabulary, the dancers of the Royal Ballet are extended in fascinating new ways.

As part of an unusual triple bill, Infra was preceded by Glen Tetley’s very American Voluntaries and Flemming Flindt’s dark murderous *The Lesson*. Neither showed the company at the best of its ability, but both will remain a statement of their time.

Voluntaries, a tribute to the late John Cranko, was powerful but its modern feel remained deeply rooted in the 1970s. The dancers traverse the stage with highly stylised runs, often associated with American Modern dance. The movement kept circling and spiraling through the body and across the stage, with the head and torso taking almost every balance of the vertical. Mara Galeazzi, truly shone throughout, building upon her recent emotive performances in Kenneth Macmillan’s Manon. Voluntaries has remained a popular work and in repertoire with many companies due to its excellent musicality, whether the choreography is accompanied by the earlier organ passages or the airier strings towards the end, every step fits and breathes the music.

The Lesson was another truly distinctive work and a daring revival. Known as hit or miss choreography in the wrong hands, the Royal Ballet proved that this dark, but in places twee, choreography was well worth a viewing. Laura Morera played an excellent obsessive-compulsive pianist who strutted the stage arranging the murder scene with extreme precision. Roberta Marquez created a sickly sweet pupil who knew her talent a little too well, but the show stopper was Johan Kobborg’s teacher who squirmed, sweated and fought to keep his perverse urges under control. This work relied heavily upon the dancers acting ability and charicterisation to great effect, but the movement remained rather dated, even with the best attempts of the cast to breathe life into Flindt’s choreography.

Infra was very much the main event. Many aspects of this work were unknowingly dangled in front of our eyes at Wayne McGregor’s DeloitteIgnite08 festival earlier this year. Julian Opie’s electronic picturegram lady has presiding over the Opera House entrance hall since the summer, allowing audiences to become comfortable with this type of technology and the idea of seeing it side by side with ballet. Wayne McGregor | Random Dance was also part of DeloitteIgnite08, offering a glimpse into the movement vocabulary explored in Infra.

The dark stage, the LED strip hung high above the stage creating a road for the digital cast to parade along and the scantily clad dancers combined to majestic and mesmerising effect. Although the dancers appeared truly exposed, it felt as if familiar gestures and key historic ballet poses were appearing briefly through a new movement language, yet none of the cast looked out of their comfort zone.

McGregor brought pairs of dancers into the light on a number of occasions with close proximity but with no unison. This image, and the later crowd scene brought home the idea of living in an over populated city with no sense of community. As Lauren Cuthbertson collapsed in the centre of the stage, with passers-by undeterred in their tracks, a sense of humanity evaporated from the stage.

An intriguing use of raw movement phrases and ugly lines combine to create a polished, elegant work, but maybe it takes more than one viewing of this step-heavy 25 minute piece to deconstruct the duets. Infra will definitely give audiences faith in new ballets – even if the old ones remain close to the heart.

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