September 25, 2011 9:30 pm

Ocean’s Kingdom, Lincoln Center, New York

McCartney catches the melancholy otherworldliness of an underwater domain

It is known as “the Paul McCartney ballet” for good reason. The ex-Beatle not only composed the music, devised the story and enlisted his famous daughter Stella to design the costumes, but he could have invented the steps as well, given the novice choreography we were handed. And there lies the ballet’s problem. (The hour-long work plays this week, then in January.)

The libretto by Sir Paul is serviceable. The contempo mix of fairytale, teen romance and adventure story has the requisite good guys and bad guys. The baddies, from Earth, want to trounce the innocents, who only want to love in an octopus’s garden in the shade.

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The score, conducted by Fayçal Karoui at the gala premiere, may not rate with Tchaikovsky – film composer John Williams would be a better likeness – but McCartney does catch the melancholy otherworldliness of an underwater domain that has appealed to choreographers and their composers almost since ballet’s beginnings. Woven into the undulant theme are helpful dramatic cues such as a heated drum solo for the villains’ rabid pursuit of the good princess and her beau, and a slurry waltz for a drunken trio clowning around at the royal ball.

Peter Martins – the choreographer, if you read the fine print – made little of the occasional music or the gluey theme; the ballet was dramatically inert. The acts tended to follow the same pattern: the noodling around of water maidens, courtiers or handmaidens quickly gave way to an extended swoony pas de deux for leads Sara Mearns and Robert Fairchild, which was eventually derailed by villainy. By the third delirious duet, I might as well have been trapped in a subway car opposite smooching teenagers, I was so desperate to look at something else.

Only the costumes – the kind of outlandish experiments encountered on the catwalk – rewarded attention. The sea maidens were arrayed in wildly mixed prints; the evil punk warriors resembled Aborigines in full body tattoo.

But on opening night Sir Paul was in the house, appearing onstage at the final curtain to take a jaunty bow in suit and narrow tie. And at least for a large contingent of ladies screaming like it was 1964, this was all that mattered.

2 stars

nycballet.com

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