Sat. May 28th, 2022

After five months of wall-to-wall narrative favorites – Giselle, Nutcracker, Romeo and Swan Lake – the Royal Ballet has finally re-entered the 21st century with an underwhelming triple bill of works old, borrowed and new. The evening kicked off with the world premiere of The Weathering, by New York-based dancemaker Kyle Abraham. The 11-man piece is set to an episodic score by Ryan Lott and performed on a bare stage adorned with parchment lanterns. Karen Young’s costumes – chiffon shifts for the two women, stretch pants and satin vests for the men – are in a cautious, hotel-room palette of gray and pinky beige.

Abraham’s magpie method has absorbed and repurposed much of the classical vocabulary and smoothly exploits the gifts of his chosen dancers. Full use is made of Joseph Sissens’s mercurial technique and hyperflexible torso. Calvin Richardson, often at his best in contemporary work, gets a dazzling pirouette, arms spiking and flaring around him like streamers caught in a fan. Fumi Kaneko unfolded those long, lumpless, tango dancer legs in languorous developed. Anna Rose O’Sullivan, gallantly subbing for a Covid-struck Natalia Osipova, unravelled turn after turn.

Abraham, who has a nifty gift for sudden changes of scale, exploits O’Sullivan’s facility when he has her exit stage left in a tornado of chains only to have her replaced by two men who whirl on from the wings as if infected by her movements.

A group of dancers shout and gesticulate

Crystal Pite’s ‘Solo Echo’ © Andrej Uspenski

It was a long 35 minutes just the same. The promised “abstract narrative” on love and loss did not emerge on first viewing and the corny ending – an otherwise impressive Joshua Junker mooching upstage in the dark – fell decidedly flat.

Crystal Pite’s septet Solo Echo, set to selected movements from Brahms cello and piano sonatas, was originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater in 2012. Its UK premiere came six years later when Ballet British Columbia brought it to Sadler’s Wells, where its crepuscular black-on-black styling and anguished plastic groupings looked right at home. When it had its Covent Garden debut last year, it was eagerly welcomed by square-eyed dance lovers, pathetically grateful for the return of live performance. Ten months later, seen in the context of a normal ballet season, it looks glum and out of place. Pite’s swooning conga lines seem too small-scale (and far too dark) for a vast stage with long sightlines and are not, perhaps, the best use of a major international ballet company.

A male and a female dancer clasp hands and pull against each other

Ryoichi Hirano and Marianela Nuñez in ‘DGV: Danse à grande vitesse’ © Andrej Uspenski

The evening closed with a revival of Christopher Wheeldon’s reliably crowd-pleasing DGV: Dancing at high speed, created for the company in 2006 to an unrelenting Michael Nyman score. The dazzling original line-up (Zenaida Yanowsky, Darcey Bussell, Leanne Benjamin, Gary Avis et al) made it all look easy, but on Thursday last-minute cast changes meant that only Ryoichi Hirano and Marianela Nuñez, sole survivor of the 2006 cohort , looked entirely at home. The four couples and 18-strong chorus worked hard to give the choreography a brash, almost showdance vibe but Wheeldon’s pairwork looked scary at times and those constant overhead lifts are an exercise in ballerina-bending that really dates the piece.

★★★ ☆☆

To April 7,

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