Burrow by Joshua Beamish
Elégie du Souvenir by Valentino Zucchetti
L’autre Côté by Sander Blommaert
Dances for 1, 2 and 3 by Erico Montes
Dez Days by Marcelino Sambé
London, Linbury Studio Theatre
24 February 2015
Gallery of pictures by Dave Morgan
You are never sure what will turn up at The Royal Ballets annual Draft Works programme and that’s part of its appeal. These short works are choreographed by members of the company who volunteer for the task and recruit other dancers in the company to take part, preparing the performance in their free time. It’s very plainly presented without fancy costumes or lighting, but it has in the words of Kristen McNally, the presenter for the evening, “no rules”. Participants can try out anything that takes their fancy. Sometimes this looks very classical in style, sometimes not. This year‘s highlight was an exuberant piece from Marcelino Sambé which provided a lively closer to an otherwise rather downbeat programme.
There were just five pieces on this bill, less than the nine or ten items often found in the past. In previous years works from Kristen McNally have been real highlights. However she said in her introductions that the pressures of the schedule (the Royal has been very hectic this year) meant that she simply didn’t have time. Presumably this accounts for the reduced number of works offered overall, which make up a programme of just over an hour. It’s a shame that the company can’t set aside a little time for further preparation and development. (A programme of McNally’s works in the Linbury would be an interesting prospect.) While it’s good to see that the choreographers here are returning to Draft Works for further experiments, it’s a pity there are no new names coming forward to join them.
Draft Works has proved an important springboard for creativity. Ludovic Ondiviela did a number of pieces for earlier runs before deciding he wanted to leave the Royal and move into a career as a freelance choreographer. Jonathan Watkins, a keen participant in earlier programmes, is now creating a new full length work for Northern Ballet. You could say that the Royal was producing more choreographers than it quite knows what to do with.
Kristen McNally was a confident and good humoured host for the evening, introducing the choreographer for each piece and asking them about their choices and approach. These conversations were as interesting for what was not said as for what was. None of them mentioned at all the fact that the Linbury had been set up for traverse presentation. You might think that having the audience on both sides would have had an obvious impact on the structure of the work and had to be thought through. (Indeed, the audience on the far side must have thought that too, when at the close of one piece the dancers all formed a final pose facing the opposite way). But none of this was remarked on.
There was one choreographer from outside the company, Joshua Beamish. He has presented at Draft Works before, and also appeared here last year with Wendy Whelan in her Restless Creature contemporary programme. Burrow was the first work on the programme, a duet for Nicol Edmonds and Matthew Ball. This had also appeared in Resolution! at the Place earlier in the month. Beamish is not by origin a classical choreographer but keen to work with classical dancers, at least with men. He noted he has never worked with women on pointe yet.
Burrow invited us to admire two very handsome bare-chested young men examined from every angle. It’s a moody, rather downbeat piece. The music is appealingly danceable Shostakovich which suggests some kind of drama or angst that the dance doesn’t quite manage to deliver. The dancers sometimes mirror or follow each other, and support each other. There are repeated motifs of both hands held before the eyes: one dancer repeatedly clutches the other around the throat. It’s very well performed. Matthew Ball looks increasingly anguished as the piece progresses but it’s not really clear why. The dance itself remains opaque, and doesn’t explain anything about the relationship between the two protagonists.
Next was Elégie du Souvenir from first soloist Valentino Zucchetti. He has made a number of pieces before, not just for Draft Works but also including Orbital Motion for New English Ballet Theatre. This is set firmly within the classical idiom. It benefited from live music (Rachmaninoff on piano and cello). Zucchetti told us that this time he had worked very much from the dancers he had chosen rather than going into the studio with preformed ideas. His performers were Fumi Kaneko and Tristan Dyer and he certainly made them look good in a romantic, but not saccharine, pas de deux. Kaneko had ample opportunities slowly to unfurl her very lovely arms. She was carefully partnered by Dyer, navigating lots of tricky lifts.
Sander Blommaert’s L’Autre Côté is very different from his work the previous year, which had lots of ambitious formal partnering, inspired by ice skaters he works with. This work looked more contemporary in feel. It used a corps of seven dancers to accompany the central figure of Camille Bracher, briefly partnered by Matthew Ball. Most of these dancers are from the Aud Jebsen Young Dancers Programme. The tone of the work was downbeat. Bracher’s fleeting encounter with Matthew Ball looked antagonistic, and she was left alone tossing her spectacular mane of hair and looking increasingly fractious.
First Artist Erico Montes provided Dances for 1, 2 and 3, set to some of Bach’s Goldberg Variations played live on piano. It does exactly what the title suggests. There is a cast of three – Akane Takada, David Donnelly and Benjamin Ella – appearing in a succession of solos, duets and all three together. Takada, who is a First Soloist, is only a few days away from her appearance as Odette, but was still very keen to appear in a work made for her. The partnering is sometimes demanding (and sometimes the effort showed) but Takada looked serenely untroubled. Montes is a regular at Draft Works, and though this work looked polite and polished, he always seems content to stay strictly within classical limits and not to take the opportunity offered here to break any of the rules.
You could not say that about Marcelino Sambé. It was a sensible programming decision to end with his bright and quirky Dez Days. At last we had dancers looking like they were really having fun and were ready to party. The tone of the rest of the programme seemed to be rather sombre. Sambé has been working with Hofesh Shechter on his new main stage work which premiers next month, and there was a trace of Shechter’s group dynamics in the piece but with more bouncy exuberance. The five dancers are clad (we are told) in a collection of vibrant shirts which are Sambé’s own (he’s obviously not a shy retiring type). They initially enter like a bunch of quarrelsome teenagers then stomp along collectively to a percussive soundtrack. It’s full of bickering good humour, with various pairings off, until it is suddenly undercut by a recording of Strange Fruit, before returning to party mode again. This was a good end to the programme sending the audience away on a cheerfully upbeat note.