Deloitte Ignite is The Royal Opera House’s annual contemporary arts festival which runs from 5 – 28 September, this year based on the theme of myth.
Dance has always featured as part of the Deloitte Ignite contemporary arts festival but this year is to the fore, being curated by The Royal Ballet and the National Gallery’s Dr Minna Moore Ede. It’s a collaboration that bore much critical praise for 2012’s Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 project which saw major artists, choreographers and dancers take a fresh look at Renaissance pictures and the stories behind them. The theme of Deloitte Ignite 2014 is myth in general, but focusing particularly on Prometheus and Leda and the Swan. Sampling the Myth opened the month-long festival with live and filmed performances from a mix of 5 companies and freelance dancers. There were 5 new pieces of dance to be seen all up, and a good prelude to the 2014/15 ballet and dance season at the Royal Opera House.
Although the thrust of Deloitte Ignite is the new, so much of ballet is erected on mythical subjects and unsurprisingly dotted throughout the evening were relevant Royal Ballet solos and pas de deux (pdd). The Firebird pdd opened the show with Roberta Marquez leading and Bennet Gartside as Ivan. The steps and individual performances were there, but it looked like the start of a partnership rather than the honed culmination. But the handsome Goncharova costumes immediately take you to another place – the work retains a freshness that belies its 90-odd years. Later we got a pdd from Ondine with Yuhui Choe and Valeri Hristov. It’s a hard sell – the Hans Werner Henze music is considered difficult, disliked by many, and a piano reduction (no matter how well played, a hallmark of the evening) does it few favours. But Choe’s innate softness shone through, if in a piece that feels plain old, stripped from its larger context. Marianela Núñez’s Dying Swan was ravishing, in what I think was the version handed down via Ninette de Valois. You could actually have a fabulous bun-head afternoon comparing all the versions out there. Faring less well was Federico Bonelli in Apollo’s solo from the famous Balanchine ballet. No problem with the steps, it’s just rather short and I’m not sure it really works on its own – it’s the Muses that breathe life into Apollo.
Matthew Bourne’s male Swan Lake is 20 years old next year and it was interesting seeing Edward Watson inherit Adam Cooper’s Swan role – dancing with Liam Mower (of New Adventures) as the Prince. The Act 2 pdd holds up well on it own and, while rather radical to see an Odette who shares duties in lifts, it’s a pdd of thoughtful and loving sensuality, to which Watson gives much proud nobility.
Of the pieces being reprised it was Wayne McGregor’s Raven Girl pdd, with the Raven Prince, that looked strongest. If the whole ballet is not always remembered with enormous affection, to see this section isolated and danced by its creators – Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood – is a wonderful thing. They are both regularly used by McGregor but here it’s not all about extremes of angular and astounding movement – yes there is danger and extremes in some of the lifts but there is also deep lyricism, supported by Gabriel Yared’s ever-evolving score of togetherness. And in the Linbury more can be seen of the rich details in the costumes than you ever could on the main stage. A highlight of the night and a great coupling of the new to Royal Ballet traditions.
Two of the new works were presented live, if sadly neither really took off. Rambert’s Miguel Altunaga’s Dark Eye, for himself and two other Rambert dancers (Estela Merlos and Hannah Rudd), was about the fates and witch-like characters that inhabit so many myths. Despite hugely committed dancing and with an interesting percussion-led score by David Preston, I none-the-less just saw 3 hooded characters, often in unison, being unhappy at all and using shock-and-awe movement that started to pale after a short while. It was, though, well received by the audience, with much stamping and cheering. The evening’s ‘block-buster’ ending was Aakash Odedra’s Unearthed, creating a stir because of the hand-painted costume designs of Chris Ofili. And the designs really were something – highly distinctive for each of the 8 dancers; one wanted to know more. Sadly the programme is lacking on this piece (and some others) and Marina Warner’s narration, interesting though it was, rushed by with its mixing of general comments on myth and things handy to know for the next piece. Much of Unearthed revolves around Prometheus (Luca Acri) and Man (Marcelino Sambe) but I defy many to understand what was happening without doing research beforehand. So a move I saw as a scorpion striking its prey probably turned out to be a Golden Eagle’s talon riping at Prometheus’s liver. It all seemed not so obvious and slow at times. But certainly beautiful.
That leaves the final three new works – all on film. Charlotte Edmonds’ The Indifferent Beak started in a forest and moved to bigger landscapes and was labelled as a fresh twist on Leda and the Swan. It seemed too hard a sell for Claire Calvert and Eric Underwood and I could not discern much. Robert Binet in White Rush made his (National Ballet of Canada) dancers look jolly good, if for the life of me I couldn’t spot the complex story dynamic (it examines the relationship between the four adult children of Leda, two mortal, two not). The film was actually made by Dylan Tedaldi and its constant clever cuts and close shots might have robbed the work of its true drama. On the other hand, if ballet ever wanted a really cool promo video done in the style of Apple marketing, this would be it – white, bleached, both sharp ‘n blurry and so very chic. We seemed a very long way from myth here.
The best of the videos and best piece of the night was Kim Brandstrup’s Leda and the Swan using the much-loved Zenaida Yanowsky and Tommy Franzen. Sadly there are no pictures or video of the performance I can use on this page, but see here. Brandstrup studied film-making before becoming a choreographer and his understanding of the movement of dancers and camera is peerless and draws you in all the deeper. He also knows how to make his point – in this case two views on the meeting of Leda and the Swan – one violently sexual and the other tender and loving. It’s both emotional sides of a relationship teased out to the max and breathtakingly animated. What life this film has beyond Deloitte Ignite I don’t know, but it deserves much more exposure. And what better advert for Deloitte Ignite and the idea of focusing on the new with a contemporary and ever changing lens.