For the second time this year the Royal Ballet has staged a triple bill consisting entirely of creations from British choreographers. This current triple, featuring a new piece from Liam Scarlett alongside work from Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon, is if anything the stronger of the two programmes: an accomplished and polished production.
Scarlett’s Viscera – here being given its Royal Ballet premiere – and McGregor’s 2008 piece Infra share certain underlying qualities. Both utilise the entire body in almost every movement and the performers limbs, their every muscle, are called upon to create a diverse range of shapes. Both pieces also use their ensembles in fluid ways, so that while certain couples can be identified, the composition of dancers within the group can alter at any moment.
In other respects, the pieces are very different, and Viscera is generally a more fast-paced, exuberant affair involving sixteen performers: one moment five dancers are moving in perfect unison, the next one has broken free like an energised atom escaping the mass.
Set to Lowell Liebermann’s Piano Concerto no. 1 op. 12 of 1983, this is a speedy piece in which the female performers are often unceremoniously tossed or dropped; each individual movement is designed to play its part in creating an overall rushing, yet coherent, experience. The pas de deux, danced to solo piano, of Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano is the one quieter passage, but it again features a series of interesting formations as Nuñez is lifted or held. The two dancers bring precision to their expressive movements – the entire ensemble is strong in this respect – while soloist Laura Morera’s energy has a particularly passionate depth.
Infra, meanwhile, may well represent McGregor’s style in its most advanced state; each of his subsequent Royal Ballet works has only pushed that style in different directions. Against Julian Opie’s dot matrix backdrop of walking figures, the performers’ bodies twist, writhe and interact in expressions of connection, separation, dependence and journeying. To Max Richter’s evocative score, the outstanding turns from Sarah Lamb, Eric Underwood, Melissa Hamilton, Marianela Nuñez and Edward Watson remind us of the complexity and ground-breaking nature of this now well-established piece.
Christopher Wheeldon and composer Joby Talbot are known for their collaboration in the full length ballet Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland of 2011, but they first worked together to create Fool’s Paradise in 2007. Using an ensemble of nine, and using an orchestration of a chamber composition first written to accompany a 1916 silent film version of The Dying Swan, the piece is a meditation on A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Against falling golden ‘confetti’, Melissa Hamilton and Edward Watson, and Sarah Lamb and Federico Bonelli, perform as couples, while the trios that form see the women virtually stretched between the two supporting men.
The three pieces also share a strong use of colour and sense of the visual. Viscera is given a certain gravitas by its costumes and backdrops, with their deep shades of purple and red, while Fool’s Paradise sees the flesh coloured costumes shine radiantly under Penny Jacobus’s lighting. The ballet’s final tableau of dancers being held in a variety of poses, their limbs splayed in all directions, sums up the power of all three pieces in its ability to create a visual order through a lack of uniformity.
Casts vary over the run. For further details visit the Royal Opera House website.