Two New Ballets, Covent Garden, London

The Royal Ballet’s latest programme on Friday brought two creations framing Balanchine’s 60-year-old Four Temperaments, and this latter masterpiece is an example, albeit unregarded, and a reproach to the novelties of the evening.

Wayne McGregor’s new Chroma is attended by the disquisitions about his fascination with neurological functions and technology that now seem a necessary prelude to his stagings. All very fine and large, but how was the ballet, Mrs Lincoln?

A bare white stage (by John Pawson), admirably flooded with light (by Lucy Carter); a rumbustious score confected by Joby Talbot from his own music and that of the pop group the White Stripes; 10 fine dancers (four female, six male), and McGregor’s familiar dissection and distortion of dance movement and its impulses.

It is osteopathy as choreography, bones and musculature pulled and twisted, the dance fighting to escape from the sinuosities, the flexings and contractions of the body. It is movement introverted, self-obsessed, self-regarding, brilliantly done by its cast (who were deservedly cheered to the echo) and unable to escape from its formulaic, almost dogmatic manner.

It is glossy in presentation, the stage luminous, the action wonderfully displayed, and a dead-end. Nothing happens after the initial shock of the osteopath’s tuggings.

About the other novelty, Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV (danse à grande vitesse), I must report that it has a Michael Nyman score of chugging, minimalist clatter whose effects I found rather like those of a raging migraine; a set that involved what I take to be a concertina-ed Eurostar made of translucent plastic that lies unhelpfully derailed across the middle of the stage with, behind it, a wall of metal panels (these devised by Jean-Marc Puissant).

There is choreography where energy is more valued than finesse, and intriguing dance is mired in the score’s tail-chasing manner and in the ideas of travel that lurk somewhere as scenario. Movement contrives to be both long-winded and short-breathed.

The cast rush about and pose in anxiously unappealing activity and the whole affair has a desperate and oddly uncertain air, as if too many horses had been changed mid-stream. Ecstatic applause suggested that the audience were not prone to travel-sickness.

And at the heart of the evening, Four Temperaments. Nothing but light as setting, simplest costuming, a superb Hindemith score (that Balanchine commissioned – and paid for) and dance that, 60 years ago, was a signpost to ballet’s future. Ironically, it looked more adventurous, more certain of how dance may extend its range, than the endeavours surrounding it.

It brought a stunning interpretation of the phlegmatic variation from Edward Watson (his line, probing the limits of academic style, illuminates Balanchine’s forms), and a very fine account of melancholic from Vyacheslav Samodurov, weighted, dark toned, absolutely right in strength and phrasing.
★★★☆☆
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