Review by Deborah Weiss
The focus of The Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill was the world premiere of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Medusa, his first work for the company and one which he created specifically for Natalia Osipova. It’s an attractive looking production; Cherkaoui has collaborated with ROH Production to design minimalist sets; Olivia Pomp has dressed the dancers in silken tunics which transport us straight back into Greek mythology. The story of the priestess, raped by the sea god Poseidon, punished for an act that was not her fault and turned into a monster by the goddess Athena, makes for good narrative.
Cherkaoui tells it with simple clarity and Osipova brings her usual élan to the role of Medusa. Eminently watchable, Osipova’s lithe body twists and bends with liquid pliancy. Every nuance and emotion deeply etched on her expressive face. Choreographically, the most interesting passages are the duets and her final, yearning solo. But in spite of Cherkaoui’s intelligent approach, the steps themselves do not find a particular voice. There is fluidity, but the vocabulary leaves only a vague impression of structure and shape.
Even the music, a mix of Henry Purcell and Olga Wojciechowska, does not bring the necessary cohesion. There are moments of light and shade in the closing phrases when Medusa, having been beheaded, is released from her body; resigned; mournful; revealing her fragility. However, what remains is the image of her shocking reptilian mane, a crown of black snakes, which from a distance, looks so unfortunate – like a bad-hair-day nylon wig, purchased from a local fancy dress shop.
Opening the evening was Christopher Wheeldon’s exquisite Within the Golden Hour. This is an example of sublimely structured choreography. It embodies lyricism, is musically mesmerising (Ezzio Bosso/Antonio Vivaldi) and is danced with such grace and precision that when the curtain closes, one feels a sense of emptiness. Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Vadim Muntagirov dance to perfection in one of the most enjoyable pas de deux created for the neo-classical repertoire (a plucky waltz). Nicol Edmonds and Tomas Mock soar through their duet. Lauren Cuthbertson, Ryoichi Hirano and Sarah Lamb with Alexander Campbell in their respective pas de deux equally put us under a spell of delicious captivation. Jasper Conran’s new costumes, particularly for the women, are gossamer light and floaty. This ballet merits multiple viewings.
Finally, Crystal Pite’s unforgettable Flight Pattern, made as much impact as its first outing for the company in 2017. With its blanket mass of migrating people and Górecki’s haunting score, we are moved collectively by the plight of a population moving simultaneously. One could argue that choreographically, this is not what we want to see from a classical ballet company – oh, but we do. It is like watching a piece of history being made during a 35 minute performance, one of heart-breaking beauty and melancholy. Kristen McNally and Marcelino Sambé are superlative with every breath, every step they take.