The Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill proved to be a good showcase for the dancers, if perhaps its themes were a little melancholy until the final ballet. American choreographer Kyle Abraham has a most diverse list of achievements including working with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, New York City Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance and Beyoncé. He created his first work for The Royal Ballet in 2021, a short but striking piece called Optional Family: A Divertissement, about evolving relationship dynamics. The Weathering, his new one act ballet is about life, love and loss. Though essentially an abstract work, there are clear themes of sadness and introspection. It’s a fairly dark stage intermittently lit by very attractive hanging lanterns, which one assumes represent those who have passed away or perhaps ‘hope’ (Dan Scully is the lighting designer). Pastel coloured costumes (by Karen Young) adorn nine men and two women, giving some balance and light to the serious subject matter. Ryan Lott is the composer, pleasant enough without being especially impactful or memorable. Abraham has managed to get the dancers right off the central, classical axis, turning at all sorts of angles, meticulously executed. The two women, Anna Rose O’Sullivan replacing the Covid stricken Natalia Osipova, and Fumi Kaneko, were tasked with intricate, difficult solos or duets. O’Sullivan, ever adept at speedy jumps alongside the best runs on pointe ever witnessed and Kaneko’s beautiful long limbs and graceful lines were shown to great advantage excepting some brief moments when split extensions faced upstage and I feared a costume malfunction. William Bracewell’s mere presence on stage is always a bonus but his lyricism and attentive partnering with Kaneko were particularly rewarding. The choreography itself was confidently classical through each of the nine parts yet overall there was a distinct lack of cohesion between the different sections. At times the central couple appeared musically attuned, only to suffer a distraction when the men danced behind them in seemingly unrelated sequences either to each other, the couple or the music. One of the most interesting moments was Joshua Junker’s closing solo to which he brought technical accomplishment and genuine gravity. Abraham offers some very eye-catching passages of choreography but has a way to go before he makes his mark.
Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo is also a solemn affair but has the advantage of having sections of Brahms sonatas for cello and piano to drive the content, beautifully played by Christopher Vanderspar (cello) and Robert Clark (piano). Pite’s choreography is always engaging but this piece is not in the same league as some of her other works such as Flight Pattern or The Statement. To a backdrop of falling snow, sparkling like fireflies, one struggles to see the faces or expressions on the gloomy stage. Movements are well-constructed, patterns are clearly drawn and the dancers, very good – and it does improve with repeated viewings. However, it does not strike me as a piece that shows this company’s strengths (it was originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater).
Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à grande vitesse, created in 2006, was something of a relief and very much suited to this cast of dancers. Set to Michael Nyman’s score of the same name, originally composed to commemorate the opening of the French high speed train, ‘train à grande vitesse’, the ballet has all the components that make for compelling viewing. There is a sense of urgency, momentum, magnitude with a vast corps de ballet and four pairs of soloists. Jean-Marc Puissant’s super-sculptural designs are breathtaking and with Jennifer Tipton’s inspired lighting the whole experience feels, much like the journey depicted in the ballet, as if we got there in the end. Movements are expansive, everything is large-scale. Lifts look set to take flight and are challenging, yet miraculously steady and every step finds the impetus in the score. Wheeldon does have his signature choreography, lifts with flexed feet, the swaying and canon of the group, some memorable moves within duets that appear in some of his other ballets, but it’s all magnificent. Gina-Storm Jensen and Matthew Ball, Yasmine Naghdi and William Bracewell, Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano and Mayara Magri and Joseph Sissens lead the rest of the dancers with inimitable style.
I feel moved to mention that in April the company revives some Ashton favourites. It is notable that the first ballet on that triple bill was created in 1948 (Scènes de Ballet). Would that contemporary choreographers have that kind of staying power and longevity and enough appeal to want to see alternative casts. Wheeldon is doing pretty well but it does seem of late, that productions often come and disappear fairly quickly. It makes one question where the art form is heading in order to continue to draw regular audiences as well as leaving a legacy such as those of Ashton, MacMillan, Balanchine or Cranko.