BWW Review: BERNSTEIN CENTENARY, Royal Opera House
Following on from the Royal Ballet's popular story ballets, such as Giselle and The Winter's Tale, the company now turn their attention to work of Leonard Bernstein to mark a century since his birth. It comes in the form of a stylish mixed bill of Bernstein's compositions created for the concert hall.
The bill features two new works. First up is Wayne McGregor's Yugen, a short piece set to the distinctive Chichester Psalms. It is, as expected, an intellectual and calculated McGregor work executed with precision to a collection of choral, but unexpectedly jazzy Hebrew texts.
The pace is fiercely led by Olivia Cowley, who is eye-catching throughout in her encounters with her various partners. Edmund de Waal's angular set is also mimicked in the choreography through the stylised movement - arched backs and intricate partnering.
The score transforms from the explosive to the lyrical and delicate. More heartfelt and sincere emotions can be observed as the various pairs' relationships develop and they hop elegantly from one to another.
It's an engaging and impactful 19 minutes packed with high drama, despite no clear narrative, which works effectively to highlight the talent in the mid ranks of the company.
Perhaps the most accessible work is Liam Scarlett's The Age of Anxiety, first seen in 2014. There are hints of Broadway in the theatrical staging and the diverse set of characters thrown into an unlikely situation, fuelled by alcohol and fear in wartime New York.
The action moves from a archetypal city bar to Rosetta's sleek apartments, both of which are handsomely designed by John MacFarlane.
Sarah Lamb is Rosetta, the lone female of the piece. Her character has an air of confidence, though she also displays glimpses of weakness as the night wears on.
Lamb's take is a little too prim and proper, however, as she attempts to take control of the unfolding situation. I never felt she completely let go and succumbed to her intoxication. It would have been fun to see a wilder side to her Rosetta. On inviting her new companions back to her apartment for a nightcap, her manner seems tinged with hostility and superiority.
Thankfully, the additional zest is provided by Luca Acri's athletic Emble (a teenage navy recruit) and James Hay's wonderfully energetic Malin (a medical officer). The piece culminates in the apartment set being stripped away, leaving just Malin, who is firstly reflective but then celebratory in a joyful conclusion against the New York skyline. It's the most Broadway moment of the evening.
Christopher Wheeldon's Corybantic Games is the second new work in this triple bill; it explores various ideas around love to Bernstein's Serenade. It's a visually beautiful piece, attractively costumes by Erdem Moralioglu with the women in nude-coloured corsets trimmed with black ribbon.
The stunningly lit Agathon adagio in ice blue, featuring three pas de deux, is delicately staged to the most mellow section of the score. It's fascinating to see Wheeldon play with non-heterosexual partnerships - the six featuring one male/female, one male/male and one female/female pairing.
Laterly, Tierney Heap is an unstoppable powerhouse who emerges from nowhere to take ownership of the fifth movement in a hypnotising burst of energy that leads the large ensemble. They are put through their paces by Wheeldon's demanding choreography, completing an exhilarating but satisfying tribute.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton