Children of Adam, Royal Opera House, London

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Two ballets new to the repertory took the Covent Garden stage on Monday night: the welcome acquisition of Balanchine’s Theme and Variations, a firework display watched from the windows of the Winter Palace, and a creation from Alastair Marriott. This Children of Adam uses a fine score by the American composer Christopher Rouse (music lean, emotionally resonant), has forested design by Adam Wiltshire, and comes weighted with a programme note about Walt Whitman that is further weighted by quotations from his verses.

Its matter is Cain and Abel, and I found the whole thing dismaying. Marriott is a gifted creator of dances. I was impressed by his Being and Having Been (which was very chic about Icarus), and by his Opera House debut in 2005 with Tanglewood, whose plotless, allusive dances were admirably crafted. Children of Adam proposes a primitive and conformist tribe; two brothers, one younger and seemingly anxious about sex, the older a nice chap; the older brother’s wife; and the statutory murder with the pendant offer of sexual initiation to Cain from Mrs Abel, and Cain’s eventual discovery of the love that used not dare to speak its name.

This action unfolds in choreography too neat for its own good: there are hints of the MacMillan manner in Triad, but without MacMillan’s disquieting poetry. The ever-watchable Steven McRae dances in tormented fashion as Cain; Johannes Stepanek and Leanne Benjamin do the decent thing as Abel and his wife; and the tribe does what tribes may be expected to do in these circumstances. Marriott does not betray his music, but the ballet looks dangerously modest, and the closing passage when Cain finds a nice chum, which could have set Walt Whitman’s pulses racing, is near to bathos. Every worthwhile choreographer is allowed his miscalculation, and this, I trust, is Marriott’s.

Theme and Variations looked spiffing (Peter Farmer design) and was spiffingly danced by Alina Cojocaru, all speed and joyous assurance, and Johan Kobborg, making a welcome and nobly shaped return to the stage, with a bright-footed cohort in attendance. Balanchine explores Tchaikovsky’s final variations from the Suite Number 3 with a vivid delight in the composer’s devices, matching them with devices no less fascinating. Tremendous – and a score dashingly played under Barry Wordsworth’s baton.
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