Dance@TheGrange – curated by Wayne McGregor & Edward Watson and featuring Company Wayne McGregor, dancers from The Royal Ballet and guest artists including Alessandra Ferri.
After the Rain pdd, Woolf Works pdd, Meditation from Thais, Obsidian Tear duet, Autobiography duet, Borderlands duet, Atomos extract, jojo, Bach Forms
Alresford, Grange Park
10 June 2018
It’s quite the coup for The Grange Festival to have appointed Wayne McGregor as its first director of dance. Not only can he bring his own company out to the Hampshire country house venue (where Akram Khan developed his latest show), but also, as resident choreographer at the Royal Ballet, he can bring the top tier from Covent Garden too.
This first programme, co-curated with Edward Watson, was certainly star-packed. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares reprised the achingly melancholic Wheeldon duet from After the Rain. The incomparable Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli performed the haunting duet from the last segment of McGregor’s Woolf Works (a moving meditation on Virginia Woolf’s suicide). Beatriz Stix-Brunell (replacing Sarah Lamb) and Matthew Ball gave us a twinklingly pretty rendering of that gala classic, Méditation from Thaïs, full of swirling romanticism and teeny-tiny pas de bourrée. And Ball paired with Calvin Richardson for the dramatic opening duet from Obsidian Tear, McGregor’s all-male piece for the Royal Ballet, which played out like a robustly male seduction.
It was a treat to see all this in The Grange’s intimate theatre space. But McGregor didn’t let his well-heeled audience rest back in a swoon of classical loveliness; the programme was spiked with examples of his more purely contemporary work. There was a hard-edged, confrontational female duet from McGregor’s recent Autobiography, whose industrial clang and restless complexities offered a short, sharp shock. The Royal Ballet’s Francesca Hayward and Richardson tackled a duet from Borderlands, McGregor’s 2013 commission for San Francisco Ballet, which, coming directly after the Thaïs duet, was a marvellous juxtaposition of movement styles, in which Hayward mesmerised with a display of unalloyed, hyperextended power.
The second part of the evening was devoted to a large chunk from McGregor’s Blade Runner-inspired Random Dance piece, Atomos (minus the part requiring 3D specs). This 2013 abstract work pushes dancers into a whirl of shapes that feel untethered from the score. McGregor’s company dancers pulsed and writhed in the confines of a red spotlight, twisted into barbed duets and whirled like blown leaves, limbs arcing out and up and hands signalling – all delivered with a frantic propulsive force.
The highlights, though, were the new pieces. First jojo, a short solo created by Charlotte Edmonds of the Royal’s young choreographer programme on Joseph Sissens. To Chinese Man’s Brazilian-inflected Pandi Groove, Sissens blended classical, contemporary and a club dancer’s cool into an entrancing mix, all the while thrumming with musicality and brimming with stage presence.
And the evening’s final part, Bach Forms, brought all the dancers together to interpret Bach’s The Art of Fugue – played live by Joanna MacGregor. It’s not the first time McGregor has choreographed a piece to this music – he made Tetractys in 2014 for the Royal. Here, his love of mathematical precision and geometric patterning shone through, fitting elegantly against Bach’s intricacies – at times the dancers looked as though they were parts of a formula combining before our eyes, or notes coming alive on a page. Rigorous classical technique underpinned the contemporary stylings; McGregor’s company dancers brought a surging energy, buoying up jewel-like moments from the RB stars – Soares borne aloft, Hayward whipping through the air with fierce determination; an oh-so-delicate Stix-Brunell. It was a fittingly grand finale for this first foray to the country.