Royal Ballet is spot-on with this season's offerings

July 08, 2016 17:45
The Invitation (left) is a rarely performed early MacMillan ballet. At the heart of Within The Golden Hour (right) are three well-contrasted duets. Photos: Bill Cooper, Andrej Uspenski

The Royal Ballet’s final program of the 2015-2016 season is well chosen. It honors the company's glorious past and looks to the future.

The mixed-bill program at London’s Royal Opera House includes a revival of the 1960 ballet The Invitation, created by the late Sir Kenneth MacMillan, as well as a new number by resident choreographer Wayne McGregor.

The Invitation, a rarely performed early MacMillan ballet, was inspired by his muse, Lynn Seymour.

In the 1960s, the rape scene was considered too explicit. Now it's the most memorable and talked about part of the show.

Seeing the ballet for the first time more than 50 years after its premiere, I still found the rape scene pretty shocking.

The plot revolves around a pair of young lovers who are corrupted by an older married couple.

The wife flirts with the young man while the girl is raped by the husband.

This ballet, although not among MacMillan’s greatest works such as Romeo And Juliet, is worth watching at least once.

However, the work does look quite dated and is too long-winded. Nevertheless, any flaws are more than compensated by the excellent performances of the cast.

Francesca Hayward, newly promoted to principal, was brilliant as the young girl.

Her acting conveyed every nuance of her role. Her youthful flirtatiousness in the beginning contrasted with her reaction after the rape.

Gary Avis was excellent as the husband who couldn’t resist raping her but bitterly regretted his actions afterward.

The premiere was McGregor’s new ballet Obsidian Tear.

The choreographer said he was inspired by the Greek goddess Nyx but it is better not to look for any story subtext.

This ballet is better appreciated as a plotless drama.

It features an all-male cast of nine dancers and is designed to show off the male strength of the Royal Ballet.

The male dancer in red skirt, Calvin Richardson, seems to be a sacrificial offering in some sort of ritual, in the same vein as Rite Of Spring.

In the end, he leaps down into a void. The choreography is fluid and several duets are quite intense.

Edward Watson is a dominant figure and Matthew Ball is also an excellent cast member.

The most outstanding choreography comes in the final plotless work, Within The Golden Hour, originally created by Christopher Wheeldon for the San Francisco Ballet in 2009.

Wheeldon, based in New York, is an associate choreographer of the Royal Ballet and is one of the top two classical ballet choreographers in the world.

At its heart are three well-contrasted duets.

The second duet with Lauren Cuthbertson and Matthew Golding is quite witty but the most emotional and moving is the final duet featuring Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae.

The ensemble work is fresh and vigorous and the finale is dazzling and joyful.

(The company is presently touring Japan.)

The Royal Ballet has a rich legacy of dramatic choreography by Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan.

The current artistic director, Kevin O’Hare, who came aboard four years ago, has commissioned new story ballets.

In June, I saw a new production of Frankenstein by Liam Scarlett.

At three hours, the ballet, based on Shelley’s novel, is overly long.

It possibly is the first ballet to show a dissection, in which a corpse is dismembered to teach medical students.

But the tavern scene is totally pointless and should be cut.

The focus of the ballet is the relationship between Victor and his beloved Elizabeth.

The duets in each of the three acts are emotionally gripping and soaring.

The last duet for Victor and the monster is the most moving. The choreography overall is competent but not particularly distinguished.

Wheeldon’s 2004 production of The Winter’s Tale, based on Shakespeare’s play, which I also saw in June, is a more outstanding full-length ballet.

The first act is mainly acting, followed by a beautiful pastoral second act which features pure dancing.

The final act resolves the drama most successfully.

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McGregor’s new ballet Obsidian Tear features an all-male cast of nine dancers and is designed to show off the male strength of the Royal Ballet. Photo: Bill Cooper, Andrej Uspenski

veteran dance critic