Technology and Choreography

I don't think I've ever attended the World Premiere of a ballet before: there's something rather special about being in at the beginning. Christopher Wheeldon's Electric Counterpoint was given its premiere yesterday evening at the Royal Opera House by the Royal Ballet. It takes its inspiration from a multitracked creation by Steve Reich, in which an electric guitarist plays against 11 pre-recorded tracks of himself. This work is used for the end of the ballet, preceded by four Bach pieces - more traditional counterpoint. There are only four dancers, but by the use of pre-recorded video they dance with the electronic versions of themselves, mirroring the concept of Reich's work.

To begin with, each dancer performs a solo, with a projection of themselves on a wall behind them - the image, sometimes larger, sometimes blurred, sometimes in slow motion: brief extracs from audio interviews with the dancers are played over the music (I'm not sure I care for this idea). Then, while the Reich piece is played, all four dance in various combinations while on three larger linked walls behind them multiple images of themselves dance in counterpoint. The video images do not attempt to provide a realistic illusion: often they are larger than reality, and there are some video tricks such as overlaying images and slow motion.

The Reich is fairly repetitive music, and the choreography follows this to an extent: often stiff-legged and with backs arched forwards, though the basis of the movements is broadly traditional. It all combines to an interesting experience, with clever use of the video projection, though in the end I felt that the technical side was more memorable than the actual choreography. The dancers were Edward Watson, Sarah Lamb, Zenaida Yanowsky and Eric Underwood.

No technical trickery for the rest of the evening, though. Jerome Robbins' version of Afternoon of a Faun (to Debussy's short tone poem) sets the action in 'a room with a mirror' - in effect a ballet rehearsal room, with the audience being the wall-height mirror. Carlos Acosta and Sarah Lamb were excellent as the two dancers who seem more interested in their reflections than each other.

Ravel's Tzigane is a ten-minute piece for solo violin and orchestra in the style of Gypsy music: George Balanchine's choreography was being performed for the first time at the Royal Opera House. It's an attractive show-off piece, making use of traditional gypsy dance movements: the lead dancers were Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares.

The final ballet of the evening was Frederick Ashton's A Month in the Country, set to early works for piano and orchestra by Chopin and based (loosely) on Turgenev's play about the disruption caused in a Russian family by the arrival of a young and handsome tutor (Ivan Putrov): the maidservant (Victoria Hewitt) falls for him: so does Vera, the mistress of the house's ward (Iohna Loots). So does the mistress... (Alexandra Ansanelli). Ashton's fluid and expressive choreography tells the story with charm, wit and sympathy, and was well served by all the dancers.

Posted: Fri - February 29, 2008 at 09:17 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM