Royal Ballet / Charlotte Edmonds – Piggy in the Middle, Sink or Swim – London

Kevin Emerton and Mayara Magri in <I>Piggy in the Middle</I>.<br />© Alice Pennefather, ROH, 2018. (Click image for larger version)
Kevin Emerton and Mayara Magri in Piggy in the Middle.
© Alice Pennefather, ROH, 2018. (Click image for larger version)

Royal Ballet / Charlotte Edmonds
Piggy in the Middle, Sink or Swim

London, Clore Studio, Royal Opera House
29 March 2018

Charlotte Edmonds is completing the third year of her residency as the first member of The Royal Ballet Young Choreographer Programme. In addition to working within the Opera House, she has choreographed for other companies and schools and taken part in international summer courses. Her latest work, a 10-minute trio, Piggy in the Middle, for Royal Ballet dancers, and a five-minute film, Sink or Swim, is being shown in the Clore Studio before three main stage performances of Manon – next performances 26 and 28 April 2018.

Piggy in the Middle is, in part, her tribute to Kenneth MacMillan, the 25th anniversary of whose death has been marked during the Royal Ballet’s 2017/2018 season. He created Triad in 1972 to Prokofiev’s 1st Violin Concerto as a rite of passage for an adolescent boy (Wayne Eagling), disturbed by his older brother’s relationship with a young girl (Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley). Edmonds has made her own version of the ballet, adapting MacMillan’s longer story in which the younger brother is tormented by a group of youths and eventually rescued by his older sibling.

Mayara Magri in Piggy in the Middle.© Alice Pennefather, ROH, 2018. (Click image for larger version)
Mayara Magri in Piggy in the Middle.
© Alice Pennefather, ROH, 2018. (Click image for larger version)

Edmonds sets the scene in a basketball court, where the practice play of two friends is interrupted by a tomboy girl who wants to join in. Mayora Magri is the girl, Kevin Emerton and Joshua Junker the boys. Edmonds secured the advice of a basketball coach (Ivan Daffern) to ensure that the dancers handle the ball plausibly. For at least one of the boys, the ball is a pretext for physical contact with his friend. Their cautious intimacy is disrupted by Magri, a feisty charmer at first unaware of her allure.

In swirling, bouncy choreography, the two young men pass her between them. She’s the piggy in the middle, until Junker is left out of the increasingly erotic pas de deux between Emerton and Magri. She’s an innocent, in no way provocative, though she enjoys the attention. She becomes exasperated when the two boys engage with each other once again. She tries to distract them, kicking the ball in frustration as she stomps out.

Joshua Junker in Piggy in the Middle.© Alice Pennefather, ROH, 2018. (Click image for larger version)
Joshua Junker in Piggy in the Middle.
© Alice Pennefather, ROH, 2018. (Click image for larger version)

When Emerton follows her, Junker ends the brief ballet with a solo of yearning, twisting and turning in confusion. Like the younger brother in Triad, he is jealous without knowing what he wants, resenting his exclusion and the sudden undermining of his youthful expectations. The solo, expressing the loneliness and uncertainties of adolescence, is poignantly performed by Junker. Edmond’s choice of music by Katya Richardson, an American composer, is tremulously romantic, scored with keening voices and throbbing heartbeats. The trio is a wistful study, delicate rather than disturbing (unlike MacMillan’s Triad).

Edmonds describes Sink or Swim, made with film director Louis-Jack Horton-Stephens, as ‘a poetic depiction of depression through underwater ballet, delving into the mind of someone in the depths of depression battling to keep their head above water.’ Made with the support of Mind, the mental health charity, it draws on metaphors of sinking and drowning. There is a specific reference to a self-portrait by painter Ian Cumberland, in which he lies, fully clothed, in a bathful of water with only his face exposed.

Francesca Hayward wears similar clothing – black trousers and jacket, white shirt – as she’s seen performing the same choreographed movements against a white background or under water. She looks incredibly vulnerable, her long hair tangled about her, arched feet like fins. Rather than sinking and struggling in the depths, she seems suspended, caught in a shaft of light as bubbles filter upwards, until she bursts to the surface. Matt Dunkley’s music sounds not unlike Arvo Part at his most mystical.

The YouTube video on the ROH website has drawn appreciative comments for its beauty and sensitivity. Edmonds comments that she had suffered in silence from low self esteem when she was a dance student, so she hopes the film will raise awareness and understanding of depression. In the talk after its screening in the Clore Studio, she presented herself with confidence, appreciating the help and opportunities she’s had in the past three years before she goes freelance as a choreographer.

About the author

Jann Parry

A long-established dance writer, Jann Parry was dance critic for The Observer from 1983 to 2004 and wrote the award-winning biography of choreographer Kenneth MacMillan: 'Different Drummer', Faber and Faber, 2009. She has written for publications including The Spectator, The Listener, About the House (Royal Opera House magazine), Dance Now, Dance Magazine (USA), Stage Bill (USA) and Dancing Times. As a writer/producer she worked for the BBC World Service from 1970 to 1989, covering current affairs and the arts. As well as producing radio programmes she has contributed to television and radio documentaries about dance and dancers.

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