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The Royal Ballet

'Viscera', 'Infra', 'Fool's Paradise'

by David Mead

November 7, 2012 -- Royal Opera House, London, UK

It only takes a few seconds of “Viscera” to see why Liam Scarlett, appointed only last week as The Royal Ballet’s first Artist-in-Residence, is so much in demand. It is a well-crafted ballet of contrasts; opening and closing sections packed with velocity and attack bookending a cooler second movement adagio.

“Viscera” has more than a few nods to George Balanchine. Indeed, for the first few seconds I thought I had stumbled into a New York City Ballet performance by mistake. That is probably no surprise. Although Scarlett says he always had The Royal Ballet in mind when making it, it was created on Miami City Ballet. Then there is the music. Lowell Libermann’s Piano Concerto No.1 is full of Stravinskian connections and exciting angularity. It all reminded me particularly of “Symphony in Three Movements”.

“Viscera” is no copy, though. Scarlett is very much his own man. He matches the music cleverly as time and again his busy choreography picks out nuances in the score. A tinkling in the music is made visible by small, quick steps, while grander phrases are met with bold grand battements and arcing ronds de jambs; and I not sure that I’ve ever seen so many turns in a ballet as there are in the opening section. There are plenty of unusual shapes in the torsos too. There’s lots of contrast too. Even in the fastest sections Scarlett is not afraid to insert moments of stillness, a move the only highlights even more the complexity of the high speed action.

The adagio gives everyone a chance to catch their breath. It is a complete change of mood; almost, in fact, like a different ballet. Everything is immediately colder. There is little sense of the emotional connection, even of personality, that one expects in a pas de deux. It is a bleakness that reflects the score well. The opening echoes the start of the ballet; Laura Morera is still while Federico Bonelli approaches. Once together they launch into a sleek duet full of daring lifts that often finish with the woman upside down, off-balance supports, and twisting around each other. There are moments that you think should be tender, such as when she places her head on his shoulders, first one side, then the other, but it’s not there. Even the end, when she backs away and leaves her partner, has little feeling of sadness.

If anything, the final movement is even more exciting than the first. There are occasional hints at meaning, especially when the whole cast walk upstage passing, and ignoring, a lone female facing the front and wrapped in her own arms.

There are Balanchine connections in the designs, also by Scarlett, too. “Viscera” is very much a ‘leotard ballet’. The ladies are in luxuriant deep claret and deep blue halter neck leotards, the men in claret leotards and shorts. It all takes place in front of a simple coloured scrim, although I could have done without it changing colour so many times.

“Viscera” is a ballet with much to see individually but that also makes for a most coherent whole. It is impressive physically and architecturally. It may be was Scarlett’s first international commission, but I will lay odds it will be far from the last.

Moving projections so often draw the eye from the dance. Not so with Wayne McGregor’s “Infra”, already establishing itself as something of a classic. So intense and spellbinding is McGregor’s choreography that you soon forget Julian Opie’s always on the move, electronic figures above.

“Infra” is incredibly atmospheric. It feels like one is watching the buzz of life hidden away beyond, or maybe beneath, the street. The dance itself is full of the twisting, writhing bodies and unusual, huge extensions so typical of McGregor’s work for Random. There are so many highlights. The section that lingers most in the memory sees one woman standing alone as a stream of people pass by, never stopping, not even looking; an all too familiar reflection of city life in the modern age. Another section features all six couples, each in their own window of light. While each is divorced spatially from the others, McGregor cleverly makes momentary connection after momentary connection in the dance. Elsewhere, he leaves plenty of space for the audience to read things into the dance. In the second section, a duet to solo piano, it seems as if there is a relationship being played out. The woman hangs on to the man and needs him for support, but at other times seems to be twisting and turning every way possible as she tries to escape. It’s pulsating stuff.

Completing the programme, Christopher Wheeldon’s “Fool’s Paradise” is a little too sweet for me. I could certainly do without the golden confetti that falls in a triangle of golden light at the beginning and again later. You can’t deny that it’s a crowd pleaser, though, and it’s easy to see why. Wheeldon is at his best when dealing with dancers in twos and threes and so it is the case here. He presents one gorgeous and lyrical duet or trio after another. The dance always flows. There are plenty of beautiful pictures too, and the big tableau that it ends on makes for a lasting final image.

All round this is a cracking triple bill, and proof that ballet in the 21st century, British ballet in the 21st century, is most definitely alive and well.

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