Opposites Attract, Sadler’s Wells, London

Our headline title is owed to Birmingham Royal Ballet for the opening triple bill of this week’s season in ancestral Rosebery Avenue. If opposites do indeed attract, then this is an oddly unattractive event. Three ballets without narrative, with lean casting, and scores by Dave Brubeck, Grieg and Beethoven, are danced in minimal design, and – ô rage ô désespoir, as a Racinian heroine once remarked – seem calculated to give your critic the ho-hums. The graph throughout the evening of my own désespoir was a line plummeting to the lower edge of the paper.

Take Five is David Bintley’s response to Brubeck’s buoyant scores. Five girls, in dresses suited to a suicide attempt and well-worn pointe-shoes, dance with five chaps in basic T-shirt and pants. Brubeck’s splendid jazz (there’s a spiffy seven-counts-to-a-bar number) is laid neatly out in front of us and from a busy cast I admired the brave outlines William Bracewell’s dancing.

Then choreography new to the BRB repertory from the US dance-maker Jessica Lang. A generous serving of Grieg’s Lyric Pieces for piano. A bare stage. Dancers desperately clothed: no-colour frocks of unerring dowdiness for the women, vests and trousers for the chaps. As intermittent setting, black concertina-pleated paper busily deployed by the dancers to make arches, hidey-holes, a distraction from the movement. Choreography so “lyrical” that you know that the dancers’ feet are sodden with dew. Staging, performances without a tooth in their heads. A sense of being force-fed marshmallows. A final duet argued some choreographic urgency; for the rest, Grieg’s little studies (“Bonbons filled with snow”, said Debussy) and dance tending to pernicious anaemia.

About Hans van Manen’s Grosse Fuge, which battens on the eponymous and monumental Beethoven quartet movement (in its orchestral rendering), I report that it is treated with some respect by certain observers, that it deploys four men in long black skirts and four women in hugely unflattering underwear, that it offers dreary sexual grapplings and incessant posturing, and that it makes me very angry. The men were strong and, as the piece requires, handsome; the women rather less so.


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