Alexander Whitley, Linbury Studio Theatre, Royal Opera House, London – review

Lighting, as we know too well, can prove the life or death of a theatrical performance, and not least with ballet – a Balanchine work made luminous; Swan Lake with nothing but an on/off switch to reveal its power. Alexander Whitley, a fine dancer with Rambert, has formed a company, is affiliated with the Royal Ballet and, in a performance on Thursday night at the alpine Linbury Studio, showed us his dancers, his dance, and his ideas about staging.

I have admired his performances, but can bring few hosannas to his theorisings about dance which are found in the programme. What is fascinating, and justifies an otherwise diffuse choreographic event, is Whitley’s use of lasers to define danced action and inspire further movement; to use and manipulate light; to tease and goad choreography as an interaction with light; to shape moods and to inspire activity; to make the Linbury’s stage an arena where illusion – eye-confusing, eye-astounding – tells of emotional drama, and justifies what we see despite the dance’s earnest manner.

Whitley’s five dancers do what they do. The laser display, dazzlingly produced by Marshmallow Laser Feast in lighting design by Lee Curran, defines areas for choreography, illuminates and transforms figures, produces storms of images, tears over the stage, tremendously confuses the viewer, provides vivid lines to imprison or inspire activity, dresses bodies in light (ravishing, this) and shapes spaces where they can dance.

The lasers’ actions – their own dance, in effect – are prodigious. The staging – The Measures Taken – is, at 47 minutes, diffuse. Its significance lies in the visual power of Whitley’s creation, in the potential for dance performance of what he shows us: costuming made of light; settings marvellous and of but momentary existence; a new dance-theatre if we care to dare. A commonplace of rock concerts, lasers should enhance performance and inspire choreography.

The evening’s initial offering – brief, un-lasered – suggested a reductio ad absurdum of balletic manners, and did nothing that the dear Trocks have not been doing for years, and a damn sight better. Three Royal Ballet dancers were involved, and I will keep their secret.

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