Saturday 7 June 2014

The Dream/Connectome/The Concert - The Royal Ballet, 6th June, 2014

Amid the celebrations of Shakespeare’s 450th birthday that have been taking place across the country this year, it seems like the perfect time for the Royal Ballet to be resurrecting The Dream – Frederick Ashton’s take on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The costuming is reminiscent of the Victorian era – the fairies could be straight out of a nineteenth century artwork. The set and costume design transport you to a magical forest, and the ballet that ensues is light-hearted and playful with beautiful choreography. A sumptuous feast for the eyes.

Matthew Golding plays a confident Oberon whose strength and poise captures your attention. Natalia Osipova is a strong yet graceful Titania showing that technical ability and athleticism don’t have to be to the exclusion of character. Valentino Zucchetti is an energetic, amusing Puck, and the Fairies are gorgeous flitting around the stage, not merely part of the background but very much integral to the quality of the production. One of the highlights for me, however, was Jonathan Howells as Bottom. Some great acting really brought the part alive, and having him on pointe was a stroke of genius.

Connectome is a very different kind of ballet. When Alistair Marriott came across Dr. Sebastian Seung’s Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are in which he argues that it isn’t our genes that give us our identity, but the connections between our brain cells, our own ‘connectome’, his new ballet began to take shape. A number of white poles cover the stage, the lighting and movement creating a very distinct atmosphere as the dancers move around the stage, partly obscured by the set. As the poles rise upward the stage becomes an open space on which the emotions and experiences of life are portrayed. The only female on stage, Sarah Lamb demonstrates her strength and ability to convey emotion without an elaborate narrative. In parts deeply sad, this is an affecting piece. The visuals, music, and movement of the dancers come together to leave the audience feeling almost in a trance – looking beyond mere aesthetics to the core of what it is to be human.

Sarah Lamb returns to the stage for the final piece showing her versatility by taking up a role far removed from that of Connectome. The Concert is the most overtly comedic ballet I’ve seen with a strong thread of farce running throughout. From the moment Robert Clark strides across the stage, settling at his piano, wiping off a thick layer of dust the audience is full of mirth. He’s followed on stage by a collection of characters come to watch the concert. They are caricatures – amongst them the dreamy romantic who clings to the piano, the bored husband with his over-eager wife (who he later tries to kill with a rubber dagger), the aggressively arty devotee, and a gaggle of others who go on to play a sort of musical chairs while the pianist remains focused on the music.

The juxtaposition between the serene music and dancers adds to the bizarre world that unfolds on stage. My favourite section has to be the ‘Mistake Waltz’ – the female dancers having been inelegantly carried around the stage like stiff mannequins they suddenly spring to life as an under-prepared corps de ballet. Bumping in to each other, out of formation, getting their arms wrong, and leaving one poor dancer behind still absorbed in the previous move while the rest of the group move on, this causes hysterics in the audience. The Concert proves a humorous end to an enjoyable triple bill that’s not without its thoughtful moments. It’s great seeing the dancers having so much fun on stage.

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