Saturday, 26 March 2011

Rhapsodic, Rippling and Rare

Rhapsody/ Sensorium/ 'Still life' at the Penguin Cafe, the Royal Ballet - reviewed on 23rd March
The Royal Ballet’s triple bill displays three very different works from British choreographers. The first is Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody, choreographed in 1980 for the Queen Mother’s birthday. Danced wearing muted earthy tones, one leading couple and six supporting pairs interweave to a beautiful Rachmaninoff score. Originally created for Mikhail Baryshnikov, it was designed to showcase his dramatic firework-style leaps.
Sergei Polunin’s powerful jumps have just as much vigour. He hovers in the air long enough to perform complicated leg twists and barely lands before springing back up. Laura Morera dances playfully – her steps are light and poised. Partnered by all seven men, she glides through the air as if weightless. The Morera/Polunin twirling pas de deux is divine – quiet, delicate and exquisitely understated.
Sensorium is less impressive. Alistair Marriott’s choreography plays with the body’s ability to contort itself into uncomfortable poses with high leg extensions. Implying a watery theme, dancers perform in simple leotards of pale blue and yellow and ripple their spines like waves. The main roles were executed with considerable strength and athleticism by Leanne Benjamin, Thomas Whitehead, Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather. But even their beautiful shapes do not compensate for the laborious and repetitive overall nature of the piece.
Last was ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café – David Bintley’s 1988 work designed to draw attention to the world’s endangered species. With some dancers completely dressed as animals and others in typical dancewear with animal heads, the intention of the work and its human-animal metaphor is not clear. But it still has an emotion and humour about it that reaches home. It has charming penguin waiters with jazzy waddling walks and an elegant Utah longhorn ram, danced gracefully by Zenaida Yanowsky. Combined with an eclectic score by Simon Jeffes and colourful lighting from John B. Read, the joy of different creatures and the danger of losing them is well-illustrated. The ‘now nothing’ trio (representing a rainforest-dwelling species now extinct) is particularly touching, with Kristen McNally and Nehemiah Kish moving seamlessly through embraces and jumps, wonderfully accompanied by a tiny ballerina from the Royal Ballet School.  Still Life is a fun-filled yet poignant treat to round off the evening.

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