The Human Seasons, Royal Opera House, London – review

The new Royal Ballet programme is an awkward thing, welcome in that it brings a creation for the company and the revival of a masterpiece, but even so, indigestible. Once upon a time, ballet companies offered triple bills known as “Ham and Eggs”, which opened with a suitably classical staging, were centred on a dramatic work, and closed with a choreographic soufflé. Saturday night offered Wayne McGregor’s aggressive Chroma – with its luminously spacious set by John Pawson, a raucous score by Joby Talbot, and McGregor’s contortionist routines for the dancers – as prelude to David Dawson’s first creation for the troupe.

Dawson, Royal Ballet trained, has worked largely in Germany, his manner decently rooted in classic tradition, and this The Human Seasons, inspired by Keats’s sonnet about the seasons in our lives, has a new score for strings by Greg Haines, a claustrophobic set by Eno Henze, and non-costumes by Yumiko Takeshima.

And here sit the problems. The score is too long for its own good; the looming walls of the set come from some dire municipal art gallery; the costuming lacks style – the women in cussed dark bodices and tights, their derrières doomed by the choreography to ice-dance clichés too near the rink, the men in white tights. (If Covent Garden did the decent thing, McGregor’s activities would be abandoned, and Pawson’s elegant set given to Dawson.) Dawson’s choreography is fluent, slightly too introspective, the seasonal theme intriguing. But the score is unrelievedly earnest, and goes on. And so, un-pruned, does Dawson’s score-hugging movement, admirably done by its cast.

He might learn from the example of Kenneth MacMillan, who looked at his first weeks’ work on Le Sacre du printemps, felt all was not well, and started again. To what tremendous effect we know, and saw again on Saturday. This great work, driven by its music, is still devastating, and finds in Zenaida Yanowsky a strong Chosen One. The Royal Ballet’s cast is grandly disciplined and responsive to Stravinsky and MacMillan – albeit I would welcome more urgent tempi at moments. But great admiration to all involved.

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