Sander Blommaert, Les Deux, Comme Un
Aakash Odedra, Untitled
Joshua Beamish, L’inverno
Kristen McNally, Matriarch
Kenta Kura, DW2
Ludovic Ondiviela, Untitled
Erico Montes, Prometheus
Valentino Zucchetti, Ingemisco
Marcelino Sambé, Preparations for the Last Fake
London, Linbury Studio Theatre
2 June 2014
Once a year many companies give a night of works created by dancers chancing their arm as choreographers. Some, showing promise, do them a few times, hoping for a commission at some point, and others can say “Well at least I had a try”. Some companies hold them internally and English National Ballet (ENB) used to be like that. Recently ENB threw the doors open, and they have a very structured affair with budget, composers and coaching etc. But the tradition at the Royal Ballet is that it is all generally done in spare time and practice cloths, unless you can rustle up something more from mates. The Royal is also different in welcoming some external choreographers into the building and this year 2 of the 9 pieces were by ‘outsiders’ – I use the term just as a convenient badge, not in any pejorative sense.
At the outset I have to say I thought this year was one of the better years and we should all feel encouraged at the creativity on show.
As usual Wayne McGregor introduced the night and each of the choreographers had to come out front and introduce their work. It’s fascinating listening to their different approaches. Since they normally entertain with their bodies, doing what amounts to a sales and marketing pitch for their wares is not a comfortable place for many. It was interesting that the two ‘outsiders’, who one suspects have had to pitch many times in many places, sounded very at ease at the start of their introduction, and had us laughing even, but then got rather lost when trying to succinctly describe how their piece had come to be – I ended more confused than I started. Unfortunately only two of the 9 pieces had a brief note about the work in the programme so there was more of a premium on the introduction than you might think. Several talked about there being a suggested theme for the evening – Prometheus. But Wayne McGregor’s introduction (to the programme for sure) talked about there being a completely open brief. The theme of this year’s ROH Deloitte Ignite festival (coming to the Opera House in September 2014) is Prometheus and I guess the choreographers could make a punt for inclusion by doing something related to the theme – or just do anything, as per most years.
Aakash Odedra, who trained in Indian dance, has a long CV full of commissions, awards and bursaries and his ‘Untitled‘ piece was a work in progress – the finished work being part of Deloitte Ignite and featuring live improvised music. It must have been about Prometheus but my main recollection was that it featured an engaging theatrical start and end, based on dancers’ pointe shoes tapping the floor rhythmically, picked up in the middle by the musicians. The dancers used unusually expressive wavy arm movements too. Similarly, Joshua Beamish, an American now in London following much work in NY, also has a commission coming to the ROH – Wendy Whelan is dancing a piece of his in the Linbury next month. Respect for that and also creating a piece for NYCB’s Ashley Bouder, again something buried in a full CV. His L’inverno solo for Nicol Edmonds used Max Richter for instant serious atmosphere, and also quoted some T.S. Eliot in the programme. Neither that nor the talk really drew it all together however. Fine expansive contemporary ballet movement but it didn’t stick in the mind and I look forward to seeing what impressed Whelan.
Going to the other end of experience, Sander Blommaert (an RB Artist), Kenta Kura (RB Soloist) and Marcelino Sambé (RB Artist) were all contributing pieces to their first Draft Works (or second for Kura) and rather well they did too. Blommaert’s, Les Deux, Comme Un piece was simple – he wanted to put ice dance movement on ballet dancers – not the relatively coy, social skating of Ashton’s Les Patineurs but pukka championship ice dance moves and duets – my goodness it really looked refreshingly different. Great idea, but what it tells us of him as a choreographer not sure yet – but can’t argue with success. Kenta Kura did the shortest and most charming introduction. Basically he said “Welcome and I’d like to thank my dancers for working so really hard.” It sounded so innocent and thoughtful but by the end you realise just how hard they must have slogged to deliver DW2‘s breathless classicism. Normally it’s Valentino Zucchetti who does the most speedy classical choreography but Kenta Kura comfortably outdid it and featured a stunning ending that you kept thinking had reached the final pose but developed on again a second later – rinse and repeat. Enterprising schools after a classical bit of flash, form a queue please. Sambé’s piece, Preparations for the Last Fake, was so good it closed out the night and mentally I christened it winner of the “Kristen McNally Strange Newcomer Award.” It was based on the surreal world of his dreams and featured thundering piano, dizzy spins and, despite being based on 3 dancers, there were complex and rich patterns. And a balloon burst, and sounds of a pub.
There were four RB Draft Works ‘big hitters’ who have all done pieces a few times before. Erico Montes showed he got the suggested brief by calling his piece Prometheus and the programme said it was inspired by Goethe’s poem of the same name – in which Prometheus directly addresses God. It translated to a competent 3-minute solo for David Donnelly which used all the stage and with much looking up to the sky. Trying to build a dramatic piece in 3 mins is not easy, I think – but it is a draft, remember. Ludovic Ondiviela was also showing a dramatic piece that was just the result of a couple of short sessions in the studio, his initial piece falling through because of dancer injury. Ondiviela’s Untitled work comprised 2 chairs and 2 women, one a narcissistic vamp and the other a worried ‘plain’ thing, full of self doubt. Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani (vamp), and Romany Pajdak (worried) sat opposite one another each amazed by the other. There is a fight and a rope comes to bind them. About the two sides of being a woman, but I couldn’t get to talk to him after about the earlier problems and this new piece. Kristen McNally also talked of problems with her piece, Matriarch, in the introduction. When she put the separately-created parts together they didn’t seem to add up to a self-explanatory story. The programme notes (which I only read after) relate the piece to Prometheus and the human quest for knowledge and how it can go wrong. It being McNally, it came with a concocted soundtrack notably featuring a 50s TV advertisement extolling the health benefits of a particular brand of cigarettes – it’s always a musical (and dance) walk on the wild side with Kristen. Hayley Forskitt and Sian Murphy are the centre of the piece as 2 Absolutely Fabulous Patsy characters, seemingly perfectly made up ladies fussing over not much. It actually emerges they are out to have their wicked way with a Pizza delivery boy and, having dispatched him, McNally makes an appearance as Mrs Mop to clear up the mess and reset the robot ladies, for that is what they are. When you know this it’s as fun as her other pieces, though I wished she hadn’t talked about her doubts but rather told us something of the the plot itself. New English Ballet Theatre are performing a version of this piece next month and it might yet form the basis of her BalletBoyz commission – scheduled for September. McNally remains one to watch, with such an original voice, and I love it that Scottish Ballet were performing a short work of hers in Moscow just 2 days later. Valentino Zucchetti surprised many of us by not doing a classical work but instead a piece to Verdi’s Requiem Mass which he wanted to show literally. Tristan Dyer was the lead in Ingemisco, constantly supported by Nicol Edmonds and Tomas Mock, the 3 stripped to the waist and looking like a moving Michelangelo statue. Exquisitely beautiful doesn’t begin to describe it and good to see Zucchetti extending his range. Very sadly, no pictures of this piece, or the McNally or Montes were in the gallery of Draft Works pictures made available by RB.
So what do I take away from this year’s Draft Works? Well I think over time it has become a stronger event and those (from within RB) entering pieces for the first time generally seem to have self selected in because they have an interesting idea and then find the time to realise it well. There was a phase when McGregor’s style seemed to hover over a number of Draft Works pieces, but I get no such feeling now – they all seem comfortable in their own skins, which is as it should be. This year no principal-level dancers were involved, a shame in some respects, but in others it really put the focus on younger dancers in the company and how very strong they are in chamber works like this. Having external choreographers involved is interesting – they clearly push the envelope further at times but that does not always make for more interesting or better work as such. But you can’t draw massive conclusions – all the pieces are drafts and subject to change and additions etc. As ever, the most interesting question is where next for those who show promise. RB has 3 choreographers on the staff already (McGregor, Wheeldon and Scarlett) and really any other main stage commissions ought to be given to choreographers of consequence from outside, to introduce new blood lines – Hans van Manen, Alexei Ratmansky, Mats Ek all come rapidly to mind. At first glance that doesn’t give lots of scope for Draft Works choreographers to develop but good to see them picking up commissions from elsewhere and growing in the process. The need for Draft Works remains very sound. And I think the simple, low-cost way they approach it is also good. A few years ago RB did try a follow-on, or step up, from Draft Works – New Works, which presented fewer, but fully finished pieces. Be nice to see that happen again. But enough musing, well done all, it was a good night and you did yourselves and the company proud.