Royal Opera House
According to a tacitly shared, unwritten code of common professional practice, critics ought not to divulge their opinion before being published. Which is why I felt terribly guilty when, at the end of Wayne McGregor’s Infra, I gave my first impressions to a BBC interviewer. True, I did not say that much. Surprised by the camera, I waffled. The sole cogent thing I managed to utter was ‘visually stunning’. Which it was. McGregor is indeed an intriguing figure of modern-day dance-making. Unlike some of his contemporaries, who are mainly preoccupied with challenging the ballet idiom, he prefers to focus on how the five-century-old art can effectively interact with technological ideas that are not normally associated with it. Instead of challenging the tenets of a well-affirmed vocabulary, McGregor uses those same tenets to explore the extent they can be worked on to suit the almost sci-fi environments which characterise his work. In his choreography, ballet is often, though not exclusively, the starting point for research on theatre-, more than just dance-, making. This is evident in Infra, where the artists’ ballet knowledge is used to create shapes, forms and ideas that edge both physically and choreographically on the unthinkable and unbelievable. Had those bodies not been ballet trained, though, the choreography would have not had the same powerful and mind-boggling impact.
In Infra, the action develops below Julian Opie’s somewhat overwhelming screen on which computer-generated versions of the acclaimed artist’s stylised figures constantly walk from one side to the other. Underneath the screen — which, I am told, obstructs the view when the ballet is seen from the amphitheatre — movement seems to follow precise calculations, algorithms and scientific formulae, linked together as if they were segments of an impressively long algebraic equation. As mentioned earlier, the result is visually engaging, but it would be a mistake to claim that all there is to this work is a nice set of dance images — which is also why I regret coming up with that comment of mine. McGregor’s new creation might not be every balletomane’s cup of tea, but it certainly stands out for the depth of reasoning that underscores the choreographic construct. Should you want to know more just tune in to BBC2 on Saturday (22nd) at 8 p.m.
Luckily, such a successful creation concluded an equally good triple bill. Unlike the rest of the audience on the opening night, I am no fan of Glen Tetley’s Voluntaries, to Poulenc’s haunting Organ Concerto in G Minor. Although I do respect this work as a milestone of modern-ballet history, I have difficulties in coming to terms with what, in my view, is now more than ever too much of a 1970s dance piece that has long lost its meaning and survives in the name of its ‘lovely’ poses and plastic ideas. Yet, it was a great opener, especially thanks to the talents of artists such as Mara Galeazzi, Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather.
As the middle section of the programme, Flemming Flindt’s The Lesson, based on Ionesco’s play, looked, on paper, an awkward choice. But with its quirky narrative it contrasted beautifully with the plotless content of the other two works. I must admit to being favourably biased towards this work for a number of personal reasons. Hence my trying to pack in as many performances of it as I can. And I have to say that what I saw last week was one of the best I have ever attended. The merit goes primarily, if not exclusively, to the way Johan Kobborg, Roberta Marquez and Laura Morera approached the three tragic parts of this captivating yet sombre piece. Kobborg, as the dance teacher from hell, stood out not just for the perfect technical execution of the extremely quirky choreography, but mainly for the way he adhered to the late Expressionist undertones of Flindt’s reading of the play. His character grew from a shy, almost animalistic being to a full-blown balletic equivalent of Psycho’s Norman Bates. Next to him, Laura Morera, as the accomplice and pianist, looked like a female double of either Dr Mabuse or Dr Caligari. Her final march towards stage left with a not so ambiguously stretched right arm was truly spine-chilling. The first time I saw Marquez as the pupil I found her too over the top. This time she was simply perfect as she moved dramatically from a slightly coquettish ballet-obsessed Lolita to a terrified and inane sacrificial lamb. Modern ballet fans ought not to miss this programme.