Thursday 26 April 2012

'Polyphonia' / 'Sweet Violets' / 'Carbon Life'

The wonderful evening of dance started off with Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia. Very stripped back, danced to a solo piano, with no scenery, and dancers in simple, plain leotards that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a ballet lesson, this couldn’t have been further from last week’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The entire cast were on stage for the first and last piece, but between that the ballet was made up mainly of solos and duets. The movements quite simplistic, but put together in a series of movements that were interesting to watch. There was a real sense of unity between the various dances, and in the large group numbers, a repetition of movements by the couples, a few beats apart made for an enjoyable start to the night.

Next up was Liam Scarlett’s Sweet Violets. If by the title you are imagining a nice romantic ballet, with pretty tutus, and sweet pas de deux, you could not be farther from the truth. This is a gritty, violent ballet, and I thought it was fantastic. The music is quite stripped back again, the scenery and costumes are generally dark and grimy (a few of the female dancers get red costumes at points, contrasting nicely with the darkness of the rest of the production. Red being associated with prostitution, and also the colour of blood, it fits in well with the story). I have read some reviews that thought it was confusing, and thought there was too much going on. I admit I didn’t follow it the whole time, but reading the programme gave me enough information (and I thought added a lot of interesting information, making me appreciate it a lot more. I was utterly intrigued by the inspiration behind it. What fascinating characters, and brought to life wonderfully by Liam Scarlett’s choreography).

The curtains open on a dreary bedroom, an iron bedstead taking centre stage, a grimy mirror propped up behind. This is the room the first murder will take place in. There are many moments throughout this ballet that were almost uncomfortable to watch, women being flung around, overpowered by men. It was spot on in terms of the story. The scene changes many times, props being re-used. I know people like to clap in between dances, and scene changes, but for this especially, I found it particularly annoying. The ballet had sucked me into this world of murder and despair, and I didn’t want anything breaking me out of that.

One of the most unsettling characters was Jack, (presumably named after the Ripper), and something of an alter-ego to Walter Sickert, the artist in this story. In the final scene he appears from behind the mirror, dressed all in black, has quite a violent scene with Walter, and vanishes again. The closing scene is a woman dead on the bed, a blood smear across the mirror, and Walter huddled in the corner, chilling!

I thought this was an absolutely fantastic ballet, it lures you into the dark underworld of Victorian London, and doesn’t let up until the final curtain comes down. I was pretty close to giving it a standing ovation. Just brilliant, I want to see it again, really wish I’d booked to see an earlier performance of the triple bill so I could have gone again during this season, the whole evening was fantastic.

This brings me on to the final piece, Carbon Life, choreographed by Wayne McGregor, and the piece that seems to have had most coverage in the press. I’d heard great things about it, and was quite looking forward to it, despite not being the biggest fan of previous McGregor pieces I’ve seen. It starts with a screen down, dancers in nude costumes, lights on them, creating something of an ethereal vision. The screen comes up, the band is revealed, the dancers reappear with black pants on, and a group number ensues.

I loved the band being on stage, and the mix of popular music with dance. At one point there are two male dancers on stage, dancing within a circle of light, one of the singers circling. The lighting, costumes, and staging all worked wonderfully together, creating a great unity between performers, both musician and dancer alike.

The dance itself was appealing. I have always enjoyed larger group numbers (and with so many principals and soloists it was of a very high standard). The mix of this, and the more intense pas de deux made for a brilliant ballet, that went all too fast for my liking.

It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, a fair few audience members left, but at the end the applause was immense, I’ve not heard such an enthusiastic crowd before. Carbon Life was a very special experience, but not one I imagine will be repeated very often. How likely is it that people like Boy George and Mark Ronson will be able to give their time to such a project again? I’m so pleased I got to see it, and hope they bring out a DVD (though it’s never as good as seeing it live, it’s better than nothing!). Although I’ve always been a big fan of classical ballet, this triple bill certainly made me eager to see more modern dance, and seeing new works is always immensely exciting.

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