Reviews Dance Published 14 April 2012

Polyphonia / Sweet Violets / Carbon Life

Royal Opera House ⋄ 5, 10, 12, 14, 18, 23 April 2012

New work from Wayne McGregor and Liam Scarlett.

Sam Smith

The Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill features two entirely new works, along with a third that was choreographed less than ten years ago.  The stand-out piece of the evening is Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia of 2003.  Set to the piano works of Hungarian composer György Ligeti, the music feels remarkably suited to ballet. Across the ten movements, it can be rushed and agitated, quiet and contemplative, beautiful and elegant or  incredibly stark.

It begins with the eight dances arrayed in four pairs, turning, spinning and gyrating, sometimes together, sometimes at different times. The movement is remarkably fluid with hands and arms doing as much work as feet and legs in creating the overall visual effect. There are also moments of tension when the men stretch their arms to their limits as if pushing against some unknown force.

The pas de deux of Sarah Lamb and Johannes Stepanek sees them exploring different structures. By splaying their limbs, the pair create a Vitruvian man; then Stepanek balances Lamb’s waist on his knee as her body hunches forwards and her legs rise backwards – later he rotates her through 360 degrees as she performs the splits and passes under his raised knee.

 The duet of Dawid Trzensimiech and Ludovic Ondiviela is muscular and full of vitality. Sometimes they dance as one, while at other times their movements are staggered as if a pulse of energy is passing between them, an effect that is repeated in several other movements. There is also an impressive turn from Yasmine Naghdi who stands upright en pointe, her arms outstretched as if depicting a crucifixion, before her whole body suddenly curves and she begins to drift across the stage.

The second piece, Sweet Violets, is intricate and often difficult to follow. That said, Liam Scarlett’s new piece is still very impressive. Inspired by Walter Sickert’s painting of the slaughtered prostitute Emily Dimmock, it combines this with the myth that the artist himself may have been a murderer. The ambiguity of Sergey Rachmaninoff’s music works well, shading the encounters between the men and the prostitutes, emphasising the thin line between the gesture that is merely loveless and that which is brutal.

Scarlett’s piece portrays the harsh and seamier side of the Edwardian world.  The men think nothing of knocking the dancing girls about. When Jack (Alexander Campbell) tussles with Sickert (Bennet Gartside), the movements are highly stylised, but as they break free the latter’s look of exhausted horror as he stares at the murdered Mary-Jane Kelly (Laura Morera) feels very real.

The final piece, Carbon Life, is the latest work of the Royal Ballet’s Resident Choreographer, Wayne McGregor. The stage is shared with keyboards, guitars and singers and the Opera House throbs to the music of Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt. The piece provides a great visceral thrill and the dancing is exceptionally fine. Particularly impressive are the sharp, edgy and precise moves that accompany Black Cobain’s rapping, while the performance of Edward Watson is exceptional. Too often, however, the noise threatens to overwhelm things. McGregor’s creations are always predominantly abstract, but here, unlike in his other works, it remains hard to establish any underlying meaning.

Casts vary over the run. For further details visit the Royal Opera House website.


Sam Smith is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Polyphonia / Sweet Violets / Carbon Life Show Info

Produced by Royal Ballet

Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Liam Scarlett, Wayne McGregor


Running Time 3 hours (including two 30 minute intervals)



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