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BWW Review: 21ST CENTURY CHOREOGRAPHERS at Royal Opera House

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The Royal Ballet returns with this contemporary programme until May 30

BWW Review: 21ST CENTURY CHOREOGRAPHERS at Royal Opera House BWW Review: 21ST CENTURY CHOREOGRAPHERS at Royal Opera House Continuing the week that dance returned to the UK, the Royal Ballet favoured a contemporary focus with a mixed bill under the banner title 21st Century Choreographers. As if the occasion needed further anticipation, earlier that day both immediate and upcoming promotions were announced, with First Soloists Fumi Kaneko and Mayara Magri making the step up to Principal. As at Sadler's Wells the night before, there was giddy applause and foot-stamping as we were welcome to the performance and a spontaneous standing ovation before anyone had danced a step: heart-swelling stuff.

Christopher Wheeldon's well-established centrepiece, Within the Golden Hour, is an opener to ease in the audience. Gentle, with twinkling Jasper Conran costumes and minimal drama it is a neat affair with elegant pas de deux to drink in. Anna Rose O'Sullivan (freshly promoted) and Francesca Hayward are particularly smooth and measured in their contributions while Vadim Muntagirov and Valentino Zucchetti are strong, considerate partners, completing this glittering picture of serenity. Set to Ezio Bosso's subdued score, the piece has the easy charm of a work that's a comfort to revisit.

Kyle Abraham's new work Optional Family is introduced via a voiceover of a disgruntled couple, tracking every tedious thing they cannot stand about each other. For anyone who's been in an enduring relationship, it raises more than the occasional laugh. What follows is a strange interlude, or "divertissement" as the subtitle puts it. Natalia Osipova and Marcelino Sambé are powerful and engaging but share a notable lack of chemistry. Dan Scully's lighting shifts dramatically into different angular patterns across the stage. Osipova is wonderfully chaotic, a blur of chaîné turns before she enjoys a more flirtatious interaction with Stanisław Węgrzyn's character who comes between them. It's intriguing and watchable but never fully realised in its ten minute running time.

Spoken word takes on a central role in The Statement. Crystal Pite's work, first performed by Nederlands Dans Theater and danced for the first time by the Royal. Tom Visser's lighting frames the piece intensely as three workers and an official "from upstairs" are caught up in an undisclosed incident where a statement must be provided. The dancers must shift and react with flawless timing to respond to the ongoing narration. It's acutely physical, while requiring concentration and skill. Kristen McNally is gifted in such an expressive role, while Ashley Dean, Joseph Sissons and Calvin Richardson display sustained charisma and comic timing in an original and impressive work.

Traditionalists may crave a little more straightforward classical content. The last addition, Solo Echo, is the second Pite work on the bill and of a similar aesthetic to the one it follows. A distinctive curtain of falling snowflakes against a dark backdrop is atmospheric but it's otherwise bleak and difficult to engage with from further back in the auditorium. The able cast of seven deal with the physicality well, especially the small but dynamic frame of Francesca Hayward. Two musicians, one cellist and one pianist enhance the work with some melodic Brahms but it's not enough to cement Solo Echo in the memory.

21st Century Choreographers runs at the Royal Opera House until May 30. Livestream on 28 May.

Image: Bill Cooper


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