Thursday 19 July 2012

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012

 Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is a collaboration between the National Gallery and The Royal Ballet. It brings together an array of very talented artists to create new pieces of dance, poetry, music, and paintings. The National Gallery is housing the exhibition until 23rd September, the last performance at the Royal Opera House is tomorrow evening, 20th July.

On entering the central room of the exhibition you are confronted with the three Titian paintings that form the inspiration for the artists taking part. The three paintings: Diana and Callisto, Diana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon have not been displayed together since the eighteenth century, making this an even more special experience.

Off of this central room are a series of exhibition spaces. To the left, a room of paintings by Chris Ofili. Colourful and modern, colours swirling across the canvas, this was an absorbing room. The next room is very dark, with a black cube in the middle. This is Mark Wallinger’s installation piece, Diana. There is a keyhole, a misty window, and some peepholes to peer through into a bathroom, a woman inside bathing. This seems intrusive and voyeuristic, and fits in well with the stories Titian depicts in his paintings.

The rest of the rooms revolved around the ballets. In one room the costumes, designed by Chris Ofili, Conrad Shawcross, and Mark Wallinger. Some very colourful, others plainer, with simple patterns and colour schemes. In the next room, a smaller version of the robot that will appear in Machina, designed by Conrad Shawcross, giving a taste of what was to come. In the next room, a fascinating video showing all seven of the choreographers taking part in this project working with the dancers of the Royal Ballet whilst creating their new dance pieces. In the final room, set designs, and videos showing them being put together. I was now very much looking forward to the evening’s performance at the Royal Opera House, and beginning to realise just how exciting this project is.

The triple bill at the Royal Opera House kicked off with Machina. The staging was very simple, very sparse. To begin with there was a screen covering the robot Diana, the light on the end of her arm visibly gently moving, calmly, peacefully. As the piece progressed you could see more and more of Diana. Once she realised she was being watched by the dancers her movements suddenly became quicker, wilder. I know a few reviewers have had issue with the noises coming from the robot, but for me, it was all part of the piece. There were rests in the music where you could hear the sounds of the machine, showing her anger (I didn’t notice much noise in the calmer moments). Whether it was intentional or not I don’t know but I thought it added a sense of life to the robot, helped make it an integral part of the piece rather than an elaborate prop. I did, however, find Diana slightly distracting. During her ‘duet’ with Carlos Acosta I was paying far more attention to the robot Diana than I was to the dancer. There were some utterly wonderful dancers in this piece (indeed, in all three), and it was certainly an interestingly unique dance piece.

Next was Trespass. The most prominent prop in this particular piece was the curved mirror that was in the centre of the stage. I was hugely impressed with the talents of Lucy Carter, creating some quite brilliant visual effects with the mirror (sometimes it was a mirror, sometimes you could see through it, at other times it was half reflective, half see-through). Diana and her nymphs were within the confines of the mirrored curve for the majority of the time, but there were male dancers lurking on the other side who you would only see when the mirror became transparent. This all helped create a sense of voyeurism, and impending danger. The safe, watery grotto suddenly being invaded by unwanted visitors.

The final piece, Diana and Actaeon had the most colourful set design. Peeling away layers throughout, in the end we are left with a backdrop of nymphs. This is the most narrative of the three ballets, depicting Ovid’s story in a more literal sense. The addition of singing added a heightened sense of drama to the action, and the use of hand puppets for the hounds were used cleverly, creating humour as well as an interesting dance. 

Overall, I found my focus for the evening to be more on the production and staging than on the dances themselves. The dances were all interesting and creative, but I think because the staging was so varied for each, with very unique aspects this was what drew my attention. I was very impressed with all three pieces, and the work at the National Gallery. A fantastic collaboration of very talented people, and a brilliant farewell for Monica Mason!

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