British pop duo the Pet Shop Boys have unveiled their first ballet score, a dance work based on the Hans Christian Andersen story The Most Incredible Thing. It is a fairytale about a ruler who offers his daughter and half his kingdom in a contest.Venezuelan dancer Javier De Frutos has choreographed the piece, and ex-Royal Ballet principal Ivan Putrov leads the 13 dancers. But how incredible was it? Not very, said The Independent,
Sometimes things just don’t work. The Pet Shop Boys, the world’s favourite electronica duo, have launched into ballet, starting at the deep end with a three-act narrative work. It’s an ambitious, sometimes clever project, fatally undermined by waffling choreography.
De Frutos’s choreography is shockingly weak.
The Times kind of agreed,
Based on a slip of a story by Hans Christian Andersen, and featuring an impressive roster of collaborators, The Most Incredible Thing is a big, shiny fairytale pop-ballet with a strong musical pulse, a potent visual sophistication and precious little emotional pay-off. But if it ultimately fails to lives up to its title that’s not for want of trying.
The Evening Standard said it was difficult to follow,
There is some strong dancing and engaging humour in the ballet, but also sections that are dramatically and choreographically uneven. The main problem is that the story isn’t always clear.
The Arts Desk remind us that creating a three act ballet is extraordinarily difficult,
For a first three-act show – which is a huge undertaking for so many first-timers –The Most Incredible Thing is an assemblage of many good ingredients. It’s a ton better than Shoes, thank goodness, though not yet coherent enough to deliver its fairytale without you being extremely aware of the kitchen story – and that means, pace Neil Tennant, the magic isn’t there.
But everyone had something good to say. The Guardian liked the baddies:
It’s the dark side of the story that this work evokes with the greatest wit and lift. The competition to win the kingdom is staged like a Soviet version of The X Factor, with a grainy film of vodka-addled judges who give their verdicts on a series of absurd, lacklustre acts. The character of Karl, the black-hearted soldier who has designs on the King’s daughter, is a gift of a role for Ivan Putrov, the former Royal Ballet principal who, accompanied by a posse of military henchmen and fabulous snarls of brass and percussion from the orchestra pit, pirouettes and punches a thrilling streak of darkness through the action.
And The Arts Desk loved, among other things, the show’s look:
Katrina Lindsay’s stunning set design packs a knock-out punch, shards of mirrors, wallpaper of tumbling biplanes over little Soviet housing collectives, the fantastically intricate paper-cut chandelier that pays homage to Andersen’s cut-outs, all of this lit with dazzling atmospherics by Lucy Carter.
The Times agreed,
But perhaps it is Tal Rosner’s film and digital graphics that are most outstanding, especially in Act Two when the clock springs into three-dimensional life.
There was universal praise for the dancers. The Evening Standard said,
The 13 dancers deserve high praise, especially the leads Clemmie Sveaas as the Princess and Aaron Sillis as the watchmaker hero Leo. Ivan Putrov was strong as the baddie, clearly relishing the chance to portray a villain rather than the noble princes and poets he performed at the Opera House.
Though The Times says the ensemble are
…well-drilled but mainly anonymous.
And to give Judith Mackrell in The Guardian the last word,
Some of these effects are ingenious, even extraordinary: the coming to life of the magic clock features some beautiful imagery. Yet by the end of the evening we don’t so much feel we’ve been told a story as blitzed by sound, colour and energy. More like a pop concert, actually, than a ballet.
Tickets can be had online, the show closes tomorrow.
Photo: Alastair Muir
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano’) about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman’s Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia’ column for Dancing Times magazine.