Shortly after I watched some classic pieces by Sir Frederick Ashton, I was back at the Royal Opera House for a very different mixed programme – featuring newer choreographies by Liam Scarlett, Kim Brandstrup and Christopher Wheeldon.
The evening opened with Kim Brandstrup’s Ceremony of Innocence, which the Royal Ballet describes as such a piece which “tracks an imagined meeting between a man and his childhood self” and “examines the impact of the passing of youth and innocence”.
Unfortunately, the ballet left me cold. Perhaps I’m just not smart enough to ‘get it’, but Innocence felt like one of those contemporary works that is attempting to be clever with the use of light projections and dim lighting to convey something but misses out on the basics. There was no sensitivity in the dancing that you’d think will be present on a piece regarding the loss of innocence, and the steps were not very interesting either. I also wondered if the performance suffered from the casting – the intense, expressive Edward Watson played the role of the man the previous night, but I had Bennet Gartside, who seems quite staid and dull from what little I’ve seen of his dancing.
That said, the piece I was really looking forward that evening was Liam Scarlett’s Age of Anxiety. I was fascinated by what I’d seen of it being rehearsed during The Royal Ballet’s World Ballet Day showcase and have heard good things of Scarlett. However, if it was questionable whether the alternate cast for Innocence may have affected its delivery, it was clear that we’d definitely got the B-cast for Anxiety.
Principal Sarah Lamb, who is usually glittering and beautiful in classical roles, was too balletic for this piece and lacked the confident, languid sensuality that Laura Morera displayed in the rehearsals. Lamb needed more tilt of the head and more epaulement, while the entire cast lacked the hip emphasis, precision and oomph in their movements that made all the difference in the original cast – just watch the below rehearsal videos to see for yourself what Thursday’s performance should have been, but wasn’t.
Also, my appreciation may have been hampered by my unfamiliarity with Auden’s poem on which the ballet is based, but scene 1 felt like a slow start and I never warmed to the tinkly piano that dominated the score in that scene. The final scene also looked like it came straight from a bad Hollywood cliché – the moment the scene was revealed, I was fervently hoping that the piece wouldn’t end the way it looked like it was going to end, but unfortunately it pulled out all the stops and left me cringing slightly from its triteness. I think Scarlett definitely shows promise, but it will probably take some time before his talent finds a clear voice and direction.
The evening looked like it was set for a dull crash, but Christopher Wheeldon’s Aeternum gripped me from the opening chords and never let go. It was so brilliant that I was compelled to buy a programme to find out more about the piece (unfortunately it wasn’t very illuminating in that regard), and I am undeniably a new fan of Wheeldon’s choreography. I loved his A Winter’s Tale, and in Aeternum Wheeldon again had beautiful movements and patterns.
The dancers were also superb, exhibiting excellent control and making use of every millisecond of music to squeeze out just a bit more expression. Marcelino Sambe was supremely smooth in his turns, but Claire Calvert achingly beautiful and undoubtedly the star. Just watch Wheeldon rehearse Calvert from a few years ago and notice the detail and vision he has behind each tiny movement.
Aeternum is a piece that I would love to watch again, and managed to save the entire evening and end it wonderfully.