Monday, 5 December 2011

Asphodel Meadows triple bill

Asphodel Meadows/ Enigma Variations/ Gloria, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – reviewed on 30th November

The Royal Ballet’s current triple bill combines the work of up-and-coming talent Liam Scarlett with defining 20th Century British choreographers Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan.

Enigma Variations uses music created by Edward Edgar in 1898, with short sections each portraying a different one of the composer’s acquaintances. Ashton’s choreography continues this theme, with light-hearted dances for numerous characters set at Edgar’s Victorian house. But the brief snippets of personality although charming and well-performed, especially by Roberta Marquez and Edward Watson, were frustratingly under-developed. The ballet remained, to me, an enigma.

MacMillan’s 1980 work Gloria is a lament on the lives lost in World War 1. Using Poulenc’s choral music, dancers perform a series of carefully-constructed shapes with eerie ghost-like presence.  It is similar to the choreographer’s earlier Requiem, also performed by the Royal Ballet this season, but lacks its exquisite ardour and silkiness.

Scarlett’s fresh and youthful Asphodel Meadows was first performed last year to great acclaim, and in its second run was sleeker than ever with interweaving bodies moving seamlessly from complex lifts to dramatic poses. Its title refers to the Ancient Greek underworld where asphodel flowers grow as food for dead souls, but no evidence of this sombre theme is visible in the choreography. Instead Scarlett plays with Poulenc’s music, making every movement a visual representation of the capricious orchestral sound.

Marianela Nunez and Rupert Pennefather in Asphodel Meadows
Photo: Johan Persson, courtesy of ROH
From lively, playful group dances to moody, impassioned duets, the piece is captivating and intimate.  Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather were particularly enticing to watch; their fluid bodies embraced and rippled with seductive passion and sensuality. The ballet’s only flaw is in its lacklustre designs, with dowdy-coloured costumes and bizarre columns of black scenery. But Scarlett’s creation enchants. In his mid-20s, the dancer is already demanding major attention for his choreography and deservedly so. I eagerly await his next work which premieres in April 2012.

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