BWW Review: THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER - TRIPLE BILL, Royal Opera House
The centenary of the end of the First World War has been marked widely in dance. Now, the Royal Ballet present their tribute within this latest triple bill, headlined by Alastair Marriot's new work The Unknown Soldier.
It tells the real life story of wartime sweethearts Florence Billington and Ted Feltham, who, after a whirlwind romance, promise they will get engaged to each other once he returns from war - but of course he never does. It's a devastating tale, told by a now elderly Billington, who is projected onto the main stage to tell the tale, but it makes Marriot's work too disjointed and the dance near redundant.
Nor do we explore beyond the bare bones of the story. Billington (danced with wonderful purity by Yasmin Naghdi) and Feltham (Matthew Ball) fall in love in the opening moments. Their story is true, but we are given no background and feel little investment in them. The war scenes all feel predictable too: men stumble haphazardly with guns and Feltham's death is clumsily conveyed, as we only see him carried away on the shoulder of his fellow soldier.
The choreography there is, is clean and well executed, but there is not enough of it to be impactful. Naghdi is demonstrates a full spectrum of emotions, from the euphoria of falling in love to the breathtaking pain of the couple's separation and finally the silent screams on learning of Feltham's death. She balances her delicate movements with crisp, clipped pointe work.
It's hard not to draw comparison to Liam Scarlett's deeply moving No Man's Land, but there was is not tangible grief to be felt in Marriot's interpretation.
The programme is completed in contrasting fashion with Wayne McGregor's 2008 work Infra and George Balanchine's luxurious spectacle Symphony in C. The former is as typically intellectual as one might expect from McGregor, with its clinical, precise choreography. Five highly charged partnerships grapple with each other under a neverending trail of Julian Opie's faceless animated figures that run over the dancer's heads - both mesmerising and distracting.
In a mixed evening, a crowd-pleasing Balanchine dazzler is just what the doctor ordered. Those who enjoy the glitter and grandness of Jewels will relish this too. Described in the programme as "extreme opulence", it is divided into four movements to Bizet's score.
It also boasts a starry cast, with a regal Vadim Muntagirov delivering Balanchine's demanding choreography with an obscene ease, and a smile. Marianela Nunez leads the slower, more dreamy second movement with choreography reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty's Rose Adagio. Her picture-perfect poses and trust with which she falls into Ryoichi Hirano's arms is an immaculate display, alongside the well-drilled corps de ballet.
The Unknown Soldier mixed bill runs at the Royal Opera House until 29 November.
Image credit: Tristram Kenton