The Royal Ballet
Draft Works – Spring 2013
the works in their running order…
Robert Binet: Aerial View
Sarah Dowling: Portrait
Alexander Whitley: All that is solid melts into air
Mayuri Boonham: Vāc II
Ludovic Ondiviela: Exordium
Kristen McNally: Untitled
Kenta Kura: D.M.
Valentino Zucchetti: Clair de lune
Nathalie Harrison: Gallery
Valentino Zucchetti: Orbital Motion
London, Linbury Studio Theatre
23 April 2013
Always hard to know how to review Draft Works. The works are generally by choreographic novices or apprentices, often incomplete and developed in spare time. And danced in working lighting and practice clothes to boot. So if you really don’t like something is it fair to say so when it might get better later? And the flip also – you might rave about a piece only to find when it’s finished the swan has turned into an ugly duck. And how do you know if something is finished or not anyway? Nominally it’s about sharing – they share the performance with us and afterwards you can share your thoughts with the choreographers involved in the Linbury bar area. All that said, they do charge people to see the show so I guess there is some value-for-money call to be made on what you see and thought of the night.
As in earlier years I rate the overall night as good value – it’s wonderful to see great dancers close to and how young choreographers are developing, and where they want to take things. And develop some of them certainly do over the years. This year the overall emphasis seemed to be more on younger dancers in the company with no principals involved as there often has been. Also in the past I fancied that some choreographers were rather taking their cues from the work of Wayne McGregor, RB Resident Choreographer. I didn’t really note that this time – more a feeling of young dance makers doing their embryonic thing their way – which is as it should be. But musical de rigueur this year seemed to be Max Richter-style mournful strings – instant atmosphere and feeling, both modern and classical. That said…
The outright unexpected piece of the night was Kenta Kura‘s D.M. which owed little to classical sensitivities. To a heavy metal version of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, dancer Marcelino Sambe did the ballet equivalent of playing air guitar with 2 minutes of huge spins and big jumps. Hard to say if Kura has a choreographic voice or not (it’s his first Draft Works) but he made us all smile, that’s for sure. Three choreographers already singled out for watching/ development by dint of formal Royal Ballet or Royal Opera House titles presented a mixed bag on this showing. Sarah Dowling (just finished as an ROH Associate Artist) had her 3 dancers standing around a lot and various odd contortions and perching – Portrait was nominally driven by exploring what dancers wanted to hide. Of all the pieces on the night it was the one I felt least empathy with or interest in where it might go. Canadian Robert Binet is the RB Choreographic Apprentice and has recently created for Ballet Black and later in the year for National Ballet of Canada as well – so he is catching eyes if not really mine at the moment. His piece, Aerial View, has confident ballet-inspired noodling but I couldn’t see the relationship to his lengthy introduction that started deep in the Amazon. But Yasmine Naghdi and Tristan Dyer did a strong sell on a pdd. For ballet pushed likably further you needed to see All that is solid melts into air by Alexander Whitley (an Affiliate Choreographer of the Royal Ballet Studio Programme). Whitley started dancing with Birmingham Royal Ballet, did a good stint at Rambert and is now mainly working with contemporary companies – at least when not at ROH. This pdd for Melisa Hamilton and Dawid Trzensimiech seemed to lasso all that past together into one very polished 5-minute ballet-led package that had them in long magnetic attraction and much classical movement with a clean modern twist. But one memorable floor-based section had them slithering over, under and around one another – very clever, very slick and not so ballet. I’m not sure, though, how it all related to the Karl Marx inspirational quote but it was an inspiring piece of movement danced by 2 inspiring stars of tomorrow.
Nathalie Harrison‘s third draft work, Gallery, had 4 dancers wandering around a picture gallery to rippling Spanish guitar. Inspiring music, playful choreography as dancers got lost in their own emotions when confronted by (to us imaginary) pictures. But ultimately it’s 3 minutes of hors d’oeuvre to a deeper piece she wants to make involving choreographic comment on paintings. Very much a work in progress.
If you like classical ballet then you know that Valentino Zucchetti (an RB Soloist) is your man at Draft Works and this year he had two pieces in. Clair de lune, a pdd for Yasmine Naghdi and Dawid Trzensimiech, was confident and classy. It’s a bit like Georgian Architecture – he knows the rules and can seemingly produce straightforward classical works like shelling peas (I truly know creation is never that simple, but you get my drift). It’s satisfying watching in its way but where is the tomorrow in this? Well his second piece, Orbital Motion, used Philip Glass and ten dancers to great effect to close out the night and show some fast-paced neo-classical invention. He seems to be heading in a Christopher Wheeldon direction with drop-dead gorgeous circles of pulsing dancer movement. He also consciously used the whole stage – fast, fast, fast he must have been screaming from the wings. Hopefully he will get an external commission from a school before too long.
Kristen McNally also used the whole stage in Untitled – or she did in the second part anyway. It’s customary now before any Draft Works to speculate on what March hare madness McNally will deliver – not for nothing are Scottish Ballet billing her in their new Edinburgh Festival programme as “…an exciting, cutting edge choreographer for whom the term ‘indie ballet’ could have been coined.” It’s her first major commission outside the Royal Opera House and we were road-testing 2 duets from it. She confided that if she, or we, didn’t like it she’d probably go to plan B. Well we all liked it and I think she did too, although she was actually dancing in the first part. McNally and Hayley Forskitt did something everybody dubbed the Absolutely Fabulous ballet – the whole Edina-and-Patsy thing in its extravagant, chain smoking, horror – wonderful feisty comedy. No idea how it relates to the second more serious part with Forskitt and Nicol Edmonds wrapped in an emotional loosely-coupled duet, careering across the stage and broken up with elaborate arm movements and gestures. There was some of that in the proceeding work – Ludovic Ondiviela‘s Exordium – which also used Forskitt, McNally and 5 others against a maverick soundtrack starting with Satie’s Trois Gnossiennes. Episodic and more experimental in nature, there was a lot going on here and I need to see it again to unpack it – it was almost too rich, too confusing.
The most unexpectedly delightful piece for me, and one looking rounded and finished in its 10 minutes, came from Mayuri Boonham whose work I’ve never seen before. Like Whitley she is an Affiliate Choreographer of the Royal Ballet Studio Programme but trained in Bharata Natyam and her piece, Vāc II, is based on a Sanskrit hymn. Her introduction was charming but worrying – Vāc is a goddess who underpins everything in life, I think I heard. How on earth do you dance that in a few minutes? What we got was a duet (Fumi Kaneko and Sander Blommaert – both excellent) which joined the Indian and ballet traditions, not as some fusion but seeming to flip easily between idioms in showing her as the all-powerful one who wakes him up, manipulating, nudging and surrounding him. What we see is not corrupting power but strong supportive and loving power. These aren’t images we often see in ballet/dance and amazing also to see Kaneko get her body around typical wide-eyed Bharata Natyam poses. Musically it was inspired too, using rapidly-pulsing marimba to create a humming shimmer that encompassed all. My goodness, I can’t wait to see more of Boonham’s work with such dancers.
I’ll leave you with a YouTube of the music in performance – it’s actually called Apple Blossom by Peter Garland. I just hope ROH put up a video of Vāc II itself at some point.