BWW Review: MCGREGOR + MUGLER MIXED BILL, London Coliseum
Manfred Thierry Mugler and Wayne McGregor are such renowned names in their respective fields, a collaboration between them need only be eponymously titled. But for the thrill of the glamour and high fashion of McGregor + Mugler, this short duet for Edward Watson or the Royal Ballet and Olga Smirnova of the Bolshoi forms only a small segment of an unusual and intriguing triple bill.
McGregor's choreography is more classical than the modern soundtrack (from Holly Herndon and Nils Frahm) suggests, with Watson and Smirnova both delivering solos and duets that don't amount to much. It's the cumulative effect of the costumes, lighting and music that are memorable here, however. Dressed in skin-tight, flesh-coloured body suits with glittering adornments covering the essentials, together with spangly gold and silver shin pads with headdresses that resemble a preening peacock, it's ludicrously over-the-top. Watson's ensemble is gold and Smirnova's is a cool silver; they look like futuristic robots of dance.
Smirnova's solos are light and precise with crisp extensions, while Watson isn't given an awful lot to showcase himself with. The biggest development is the removing of their respective masks - a degendering, perhaps? At one point Smirnova dons Watson's mask, another play with identity, but this strand of narrative is never fully realised into anything.
Radio and Juliet, a reimagining of the classic love story to Radiohead tracks by Edward Clug, is over a decade old but still feels startlingly modern. It's a gloriously stripped-back work with atmospheric lighting and film noir-esque video projection to assist with the sometimes abstract storytelling. English National Ballet first soloist Katja Khaniukova lives the role of Juliet with great charisma and intensity. She demonstrates a wonderful sense of drama in both the quieter, brooding moments and the busy and frenetic sections of dense choreography.
Khaniukova's lines are perfect even in a rough and ready contemporary setting, and her final solo as she mourns Romeo's (the Mariinsky's Denis Matvienko) death, her head dropping to the side before a blackout, is devastating.
The narrative is not entirely clear, with the masked ball represented by the supporting ensemble wearing surgical face masks. The filmic take on their first meeting is done via dramatic blackouts that reveal a sequence of silhouettes of the couple, nose to nose. These moments of high excitement are interspersed with a little too much padding, but it's also the kind of work that would benefit from a second viewing.
Completing this curious mixed bill is Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's Faun. It's danced unevenly by Anastasia Stashkevich and Vyacheslav Lopatin of the Bolshoi - their supple, disciplined bodies lacking the primal rawness and excitement of that demonstrated so well by Acosta Danza in November.
McGregor + Mugler ran at the London Coliseum on 7-8 December
Image: Sasha Gusov