June 2, 2014 5:42 pm

Connectome, Royal Opera House, London – review

Alastair Marriott’s choreographic portrait of grief is all but overwhelmed by its own stage design
Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae perform 'Connectome'©Elliott Franks

Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae perform 'Connectome'

It was very happy that Saturday’s performance of Ashton’s The Dream, opening a Royal Ballet triple bill, should be dedicated to Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell, the Titania and Oberon of the first performance 50 years ago. Their musical and technical grace, and their potent image as Ashtonian artists are immortalised in this loving portrait of Shakespeare’s characters and of their own irresistible presences. They took curtain calls with the cast, and could be well pleased with their heirs and with the company’s account of this masterpiece: Steven McRae a brilliant Oberon, Roberta Marquez a pretty Titania, Bennet Gartside an irresistible Bottom, and Johannes Stepanek, Valery Hristov, Christina Arestis, Laura McCulloch wittily cast as the lovers. Much gratitude to them all.

Then, the first performance of Alastair Marriott’s Connectome (a trisyllable, I gather). The message, advises a programme note, concerns the brain’s “wiring” and our emotional states – I was lost from the start – and the score is a selection of music by Arvo Pärt, without which I can very well do. Marriott made this work at a time of parental loss, and we observe images of grief, of a quest for consolation and justification of sorrow, in the four movements entrusted to Natalia Osipova, Edward Watson, Steven McRae and a quartet of male dancers, all of whom determinedly agonise.

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Crowding in on this activity, badgering it, are vehement, eye-dazzling effects provided by the designer Es Devlin, the lighting maestro Bruno Poet, and Luke Halls as bravura video-maker. Somehow-predictable choreography proposes sorrows driven into a corner by tremendous action from domineering imagery. Marriott is aware of ballets concerned with grief – MacMillan is a haunting presence – and sets his cast moping in approved style, while the decoration goes its vehement and powerful way. A lasting impression is that Osipova – otherwise wasted – would be superb as the Woman in Song of the Earth, and that the decoration is in charge.

Jerome Robbins’ The Concert closes the evening rather boisterously. Under-played, his jokes are funnier. Hurrahs for Laura Morera and Lauren Cuthbertson – put upon and funny with it – while Gartside rules as the fantasising hubby. The pianist might, with advantage, cool it.


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