The Royal Ballet's new triple bill brings two new pieces: Balanchine's Ballo della Regina, and a new creation by Wayne McGregor called Live Fire Exercise. The critics were almost all in agreement here. Loving the showy Balanchine, some doubts about the McGregor choreography, and a general thumbs-up for the company.
Ballo della regina
Marianela Núñez was a delight, as elegantly fast as the dance dictates, and radiant, showing the steps as the parure that they so joyously are… and Sergey Polunin was a cavalier of ideal technical elegance and noble manners. Irresistible. – FT
This is dance picked out with the light hand of decoration and driven by a steely engine of racing velocity and tricky gear changes. Marianela Nuñez and Sergei Polunin, leading the first cast, more than rose to its bravura challenge. Polunin was the very embodiment of handsome classical dancing, while Nuñez, with her fizzing energy and beauteous phrases, staked her claim as belle of the ball. – T
Marianela Nunez and Sergei Polunin dazzled in this late Balanchine masterpiece. – S
Classical steps are sprung apart, rejigged and dispatched at flying speeds. And it's exhilarating to see the Royal – dancing Ballo for the first time – rise to the challenge. Sergei Polunin etches his choreography in air and light, and if Marianela Núñez comes close to tripping over her own recklessly fast footwork, she covers it with unflappable mischief and grandeur. – G
Balanchine's 1978 Ballo della Regina is new to the Royal Ballet, who dance it with unabashed glee. Danced to Verdi ballet music, Ballo is a light, fluffy work of unstoppable vitality. This production was lovingly staged by Merrill Ashley, the ballet's original star. The virtuoso steps look so impossible that they become funny.
In the ballerina role, a joyful Marianela Nuñez soars into the air and springs through intricate pointework, stopping and starting and whirling on before your eye can take it all in. Sergei Polunin spins effortlessly, then throws in an off-balance swizzle just when you least expect it. – I
The lipsmacking success of last night's show of Ballo della regina (“The Queen's Ball”) was down less to the leading ballerina than to the only man on stage – Sergei Polunin, unleashing his greyhound grace and majestic macho in leaps that politely defied gravity, while paying the kind of courtesy to the rabble of girlish pulchritude around him that makes a ballerina weak at the knees. In fact perhaps Marianela Nuñez was weak at the knees, as she seemed so wreathed in smiles at him that she missed a few of the difficult roulades in the breathlessly nimble choreography. Ballo del re, more like. – AD
Live Fire Exercise
Music – Michael Tippett
Choreography – Wayne McGregor
Set designs – John Gerrard
Costume designs – Moritz Junge
Lighting design – Lucy Carter
It's called Live Fire Exercise, which is also the name of the training given to soldiers to help them endure the explosions and shelling of war. The body, it seems, responds with almost balletic elegance to such blasts, and while we wonder at this response we weep at the politics that prompt it. McGregor's new ballet parries these themes – the gorgeous six dancers, the extreme moves, Tippett's elegiac Fantasia on a Theme of Corelli, and the desolate glamour of John Gerrard's video sculpture, which uses real-time 3D techniques to circle a live fire explosion as it lays waste.
McGregor's ideas are potent but this is a rare case of his misjudging the sum of his theatrical parts. So visually arresting is Gerrard's film, so overwhelming its scale and alluring its kinetics, that you find yourself watching it rather than the dancers. – ES
Wayne McGregor has produced another of his dismaying choreographies – new, they would have us believe, but surely this Live Fire Exercise is the same contorted affair that we have seen in the past few years from McGregor: convulsed movement conveying a sense of physiques knotted, driven towards a neurotic introversion. – FT
His vocabulary is growing (no bad thing for Covent Garden's resident choreographer) and the performances he brings out in his dancers are inspiring (Federico Bonelli and Akane Takada especially). The music, Michael Tippett's Fanatasia concertante on a theme of Corelli, is soothing. Yet, for all its promise of hope in the dark, Live Fire Exercise left me feeling that the sum of its parts doesn't add up to a distinctive whole. – T
The Royal Ballet's resident choreographer is fizzing with ideas, and is unmatched in his ability to reimagine ballet and push his dancers in challenging directions. – S
The ballet isn't always easy to assimilate, especially in those passages where McGregor choreographs against, rather than with, his music – Tippet's Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli. But some of the material is heart-wrenching. As a wracked, solitary Lauren Cuthbertson seeks consolation with each of the three men in the cast, the placing of her duets alongside the most lyrical section of Tippet's score makes her anguish all the more piercing. – G
The choreography is the slippiest aspect of Live Fire Exercise. Gerrard's and Tippett's work are strongly characterised, desert war and English lyricism. Does the dancing undercut those qualities, or just move randomly past them? McGregor doesn't want easy answers, but are his steps ambiguous or lightweight? Live Fire Exercise certainly has a philosophical framework; it's harder to be sure of its content. – I
The music is so overwhelming that the itchy-scratchy dance calligraphy in half-dark makes no impact on it, for all the efforts of Akane Takada and Ricardo Cervera in particular to imprint some kind of personality on their expertly minced, chopped and broken movements. Possibly Gerrard is complementing McGregor's mission of enlightenment with his virtual reality images. But then again, possibly this is just an eye-catching cliché being pushed into position, so that the effortless dance scribbling can simply resume where it stopped in the previous radical, complex, innovative new McGregor piece. – AD
Danse à grande vitesse
Music – Michael Nyman
Choreography – Christopher Wheeldon
Designs – Jean-Marc Puissant
Lighting – Jennifer Tipton
Christopher Wheeldon made DGV (the third part of this triple bill) in 2006 and it has proved a keeper. There is a spectacularly tactile quality to his sensual and cryptic moves, not only in the rapturous duets but also in the fascinating layers that animate the stage (this is a properly big work). Add the thrill of Michael Nyman's music and you have a ballet that is irresistible. – T
Wheeldon uses a stretched and pliant line that contrasts not uninterestingly with McGregor's phased, blippy fragments, both of them good students of late Eighties William Forsythe. Wheeldon, though, seems to understand the graphic dimensions of partnering better (a throwback to his Balanchine apprenticeship with the New York City Ballet, surely), and marshals his four couples and 18 supporting dancers in stronger formation effect. – AD
Photo: Akane Takada in ‘Live Fire Exercise' © Bill Cooper
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.