Royal ballet

There are passages of considerable eloquence in Royal Ballet’s The Winter’s Tale

There’s no escaping Christopher Wheeldon – a modest, amiable fellow from Yeovil of whom anyone’s mum would be proud. Reaching outside the ballet bubble, his stagings of An American in Paris and the Michael Jackson musical have wowed the West End, Broadway and beyond. My guess is that his take on Oscar Wilde, to be premiered in Australia later this year, will soon travel north, too. Next season the Royal Ballet will revive his box-office smash Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland as well as a programme drawn from his plentiful short pieces. Two summers ago, he presented us with an adaptation of the novel Like Water for Chocolate (not so tasty).

From the sublime to the ridiculous: Royal Ballet’s MacMillan triple bill reviewed

My feelings about the genius of Kenneth MacMillan have always been volatile, but in the course of the Royal Ballet’s current triple bill, they veered even more wildly than usual between uncomplicated delight, awed reverence and embarrassment. A revival of his early Danses Concertantes, firing off Stravinsky at his most effervescent and designed with exuberantly colourful Festival-of-Britain jazziness by Nicholas Georgiadis, provided half an hour of pure joy. Stylistically an exercise in the neoclassicism that dominated the postwar era, it’s witty, chic and upbeat, exploring sharp angles rather than smooth curves and lyrical lines. MacMillan’s choreographic invention is profligate, with little twists and unexpected turns, all infused with an infectious

Uninventive and far too polite: BRB’s Black Sabbath – The Ballet reviewed

Not being an aficionado of the heavy-metal genre, I snootily suspected that I would rather be standing in the rain flogging the Big Issue than suffer the racket that goes by the name of Black Sabbath. The noise, my dear, and the people! How could they? So I approached Birmingham Royal Ballet’s attempt to dance to its shenanigans armed with earplugs and gritted teeth. It wasn’t nearly as bad as I expected: in fact, it erred towards the polite and tasteful, and I wondered if a crowd largely consisting of hairy and leathery old rockers – some of them possibly anticipating satanic rituals or heads being bitten off chickens –

Same old, same old: Wayne McGregor’s Untitled, 2023, at the Royal Opera House, reviewed

My witty friend whispered that Wayne McGregor’s new ballet Untitled, 2023 put her in mind of Google HQ – it’s certainly a mint-cool, squeaky-clean, future-perfect affair. The set by Carmen Herrera, subtly lit by Lucy Carter, suggests infinite space and distant horizons. The costumes by Burberry are streamlined and sexless. Anna Thorvaldsdottir’s vaporous score hovers over it all in a meditative trance. Ordinary human emotions struggle to express themselves in this brave new world: we have left planet Earth. McGregor’s strengths and weaknesses are highlighted: on the credit side, there’s his energy and intelligence, his sophisticated visual taste, his empowering of young talent, his open questioning of boundaries, and readiness

One long moan of woe: Crystal Pite’s Light of Passage, at the Royal Opera, reviewed

I was moved and shaken by Crystal Pite’s Flight Pattern when I first saw it in 2017. In richly visualised imagery, it proposed two ways of interpreting the horrific footage of the refugee crisis of 2016: either as a matter of anonymous, voiceless masses, portrayed as a body of dancers moving across the stage like a skein of migrating swallows beyond reason or control; or as a ragtag of desperate, furious individuals with every dignity and possession taken from them – somebody’s husband or wife, somebody’s daughter or son, fighting for survival – a plight conveyed in the impassioned dancing of Marcelino Sambé and Kristen McNally. Five years on, Pite

Impressive interpretations marred by cuts: Scottish Ballet’s The Scandal at Mayerling reviewed

Sneer all you like at its prolixities and vulgarities but Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling remains a ballet that packs an exceptionally powerful emotional punch. Weathering a grapeshot of adverse criticism at its Covent Garden première in 1978, it has comfortably stood the test of time and entered the international pantheon. With a plushly throbbing score culled from Liszt’s oeuvre and an intriguing historical setting (the gratin of Habsbsurg Vienna in the 1880s), it’s a gift to large companies in search of full-length romantic drama beyond the rut of Swan Lake and Giselle. Because a production requires resources beyond the reach of medium-scale troupes, MacMillan’s widow Deborah has now sanctioned Scottish Ballet

Why is dance so butch these days?

For an art form that once boldly set out to question conventional divisions of gender, ballet now seems to be retreating towards the butch – ironically, just as the rest of the world is moving obsessively to the femme. Scroll back a century or so and Nijinsky cross-dressed at masked balls, danced on pointe and covered himself in petals as le spectre de la rose; in Les Biches, his sister Nijinska shamelessly choreographed all manner of sexual indeterminacy and suggested that girls could also be boys. Then came the Carry On stereotype of limp-wristed ephebes in pink tights with an ominous bulge – every mother’s nightmare in the homophobic post-war

Liam Scarlett’s enduring legacy: Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake reviewed

Without fanfare or apology, the Royal Ballet appears to have rehabilitated Liam Scarlett, but what a tragic balls-up it has been. In 2019, having been accused of unspecified sexual misconduct, the choreographer and his work were cancelled both at Covent Garden and abroad. An internal report into his activities has never been published, so rumours and allegations persist, but the official line exonerated him without explanation. Shockingly, Scarlett killed himself last April. Now he has been restored, smilingly pictured without mention of any unpleasantness in the programme book for the Royal Ballet’s current revival of his production of Swan Lake. There’s been a chaotic cover-up, and it’s just not good

The Nutcracker wasn’t always considered quite such a box of delights

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale of a young man turned into a novelty kitchen gadget by an evil rodent isn’t obvious dance material, and yet here we are, up to our plastic tiaras in sugar plums. Four Nutcrackers in London alone and an average of 200 productions, amateur and professional, across the Atlantic. How? Why? Sharp pens greeted the 1892 St Petersburg première — ‘it’s a pity that so much fine music is expended on nonsense’ — and within two decades it was little more than a box of delights to be raided by directors and choreographers, blithely borrowing anything they fancied from Lev Ivanov’s choreography or Tchaikovsky’s ravishing, bittersweet score, regardless

Richly layered and intricate: Royal Ballet’s The Dante Project reviewed

Where does the artist end and their work begin? Like 2015’s Woolf Works, Wayne McGregor’s new ballet swirls creator and creation to meditate on a journey of self-realisation. The subject this time is Dante, the Italian poet who redirected the course of western art and literature with The Divine Comedy. Over three acts, each based on a realm of the afterlife, an Everyman navigates sin, penance and salvation. There’s a lot to unpack — as ever, McGregor crafts a rich, layered choreographic language, and Thomas Adès’s accompanying score is just as intricate — but density is The Dante Project’s forte, elevating it to cosmic heights. The stellar Edward Watson —

Swaggerific display of pumping chests and crotch-grabbing struts: NYDC’s Speak Volumes reviewed

Last week I attended a dance performance in person for the first time since March last year. If you’d asked me to choose the ideal show for the occasion, I’d have probably picked something with marquee names and lavish costumes — a classical ballet gala, or maybe one of Matthew Bourne’s glittering productions. As it happens, I watched teenagers in bomber jackets snarl at each other in between dance-offs — and actually, it was just the ticket. Mental health issues among teens have rocketed during the pandemic, and this crew, from National Youth Dance Company, drive the point home with a hard-nosed production that doesn’t ask so much as command

At last some genuine gala material: Royal Ballet’s Balanchine and Robbins reviewed

The OED defines ‘gala’ as ‘a festive occasion’. In the ballet world this usually translates as a handful of stars, a mile of tulle and more triple fouettés than you can shake a stick at. Most balletgoers could put a half-decent programme together in their sleep: a firecracker duet (Swan, black), the odd solo party piece (Swan, dying), a dash of romance (Romeo, Manon) and the dear old Don Q. pas de deux. After a year being drip-fed small-screen ballet, the prospect of a little bling and bravura generated a buzz of excitement around Dame Darcey Bussell’s charity gala. The Hall (Albert) was hired, sponsors were found, eight major companies

I miss the faint hiss of a spinning foot: Royal Ballet – Live reviewed

Ballet lovers driven square-eyed by a drip feed of livestreaming and archive footage have been pining for the patter of tiny satin feet. Last month the UK’s big ballet companies began to emerge from hibernation, playing small-scale work to thin, socially distanced houses. Some, such as Birmingham Royal and English National ballets, took the opportunity to broaden their audience’s conservative tastes with otherwise tricky-to-shift programmes of new work. Others, like the Royal and Northern ballets, offered choreographic comfort food. After testing the waters with last month’s Back on Stage gala, danced before an audience of 400 dance students and health workers, the Royal Ballet began its autumn season with two

The Royal Ballet’s return was joyous – but the presenter was gushing and witless

Mothballed since March when it danced a farewell Swan Lake, the Royal Ballet made a triumphant and joyous return to Covent Garden last Friday, performing a string of ancient and modern works before an invited audience of 400. Meanwhile, around the country (and the world) ballet-starved viewers paid £16 to watch a Vimeo livestream. Jonathan Lo and the 83-strong orchestra, enjoying added elbow room in the stalls, set the tone for an emotional evening with the Sleeping Beauty overture — the ballet that famously reopened the Opera House after the second world war. It was a natural and poignant choice, but director Kevin O’Hare hadn’t succumbed to ancestor worship. Balanchine,

Sensual and silky: the Royal Ballet returns to Covent Garden

Wayne McGregor’s Morgen! and Frederick Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits are the first pieces of live dance — streamed in real time from an empty auditorium — to come out of Covent Garden since March. Unaware that recordings would be available afterwards, I clung to these fleeting displays with the panic of grandparents on a Zoom call, furiously, helplessly slapping the screen whenever it buffered. Both are quick ballet interludes to longer opera programmes — not afterthoughts, exactly, but not centrepieces either, though with two shirtless danseurs and a beloved ballerina between them, they do just fine asserting their presence. Vadim ‘the Dream’ Muntagirov tackles the Ashton work, reaffirming

From cartoons to stage design: the genius of Osbert Lancaster

‘Bigger,’ said Sir Osbert Lancaster when asked the difference between his work for the page and for the stage. ‘Definitely bigger.’ For almost 40 years Lancaster was the ‘pocket cartoonist’ for the Daily Express. He had remarked to the features editor that no English newspaper had anything to match the little column-width cartoons of the French papers. ‘Go on,’ said the editor, ‘give us some.’ On 1 January 1939, Lancaster gave them the first of around 10,000 line-drawn cartoons. His subjects were the war, the Blitz, the weather, Stalin, Hitler and Dr Spock, the Swinging Sixties, the Common Market, the test tube baby and the topless swimsuit. His heroine, his

Unsettlingly faithful to the spirit of Schiele: Staging Schiele reviewed

‘Come up and see my Schieles.’ Those were the words that ended a friend’s fledgling relationship with an art collector. One evening looking at Egon Schiele’s skinny naked scarecrows was enough. Staging Schiele, a one-act dance piece by choreographer Shobana Jeyasingh, is unsettlingly faithful to the spirit of Schiele’s art. If the skin creeps, if the stalls recoil, then the dancers — one man and three women — have done their job. The opening solo is danced by Dane Hurst stripped to his pants in a powerful display of athletic narcissism. His only partner is a small hand mirror at which he lunges and thrusts. Hurst sprawls and crawls and

A last dose of vitamin D before the clocks go back: Royal Ballet’s triple bill reviewed

Were those gerberas in Francesca Hayward’s bouquet on opening night? Gentlemen admirers take note: no woman, ballerina or otherwise, has ever welcomed a bunch of gerberas. Hayward deserved better for her adorable Dorabella in Enigma Variations. In white flounces and gathered bloomers she lighted the stage with sprightly sweetness in Frederick Ashton’s one-act ballet set to music by Edward Elgar. The moment: Edwardian. The mood: lamentation in the drawing room. The look: tweed, knickerbockers, pipes, monocles, moustaches held on with glue. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s designs set us at a country-house party — William Morris wallpaper, parlour games, cold tea — in a palette of somnolent drabness. There was handsome dancing

Manon can be magnificent, this one was merely meh

Manon: minx or martyr? There are two ways to play Kenneth MacMillan’s courtesan. Is Manon an ingénue, a guileless country girl, pimped by her own brother and corrupted by Monsieur G.M.? Or is she a pleasure hunter, a man-manipulator, a schemer out for all she can get? In the Royal Ballet’s revival of Kenneth MacMillan’s Manon, Sarah Lamb is somewhere in the unsatisfactory middle. Primrose innocence in the first act, half-hearted harlot in the second, shorn urchin in the third. Ryoichi Hirano, as Manon’s brother Lescaut, knows what he’s about. Hirano has a nice line in matadors and caped scoundrels. Every duplicitous turn, every dismissive flick of the wrist, speaks

#MeToo Medusa

Medusa is the bad hair day from Hades. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s retelling of the Greek myth is frizzy, tangled and splitting at the ends. The premise is promising. This Medusa story is a Perseus prequel: the girl who became a gorgon. The young Medusa (Natalia Osipova) is a priestess at the temple of Athena (Olivia Cowley). Her beauty is legend and the sea god Poseidon (Ryoichi Hirano) is keen to get his webs on her. Poseidon rapes Medusa and angers the virgin goddess Athena. But it is Medusa, not Poseidon, who is punished. Athena makes Medusa a monster. Then along comes Perseus (Matthew Ball), no hero he, to cut Medusa