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The Royal Ballet: McGregor's "Infra", Six "Divertissements", and Scarlett's "The Age of Anxiety" at Koch Theater
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The Royal Ballet: McGregor's "Infra", Six "Divertissements", and Scarlett's "The Age of Anxiety" at Koch Theater

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The Joyce Theater Foundation

The Royal Ballet
(Royal Ballet Website)
President, HRH The Prince of Wales
Kevin O’Hare, Director
Barry Wordsworth, Music Director and Conductor

Music Performed Live by:
New York City Ballet Orchestra

At the David H. Koch Theater
at Lincoln Center

Press: Richard Kornberg & Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 28, 2015

Infra (2008): Choreography by Wayne McGregor, Music by Max Richter, Published by Mute Song, Set Designs by Julian Opie, Costume Designs by Moritz Junge, Lighting Design by Lucy Carter, Sound Design by Chris Ekers, Conducted by Matthew Scott Rogers, Solo Piano: Paul Stobart, Performed by the Company..

After the compelling performances on the 24th, I was truly looking forward to tonight’s second program from the visiting Royal Ballet, and, for the most part, I was not disappointed. Wayne McGregor, Resident Choreographer of The Royal, created Infra, a fascinating, contemporary work, in 2008. With a highly placed screen for animation, black-white human cartoons walk left to right, right to left, passing in the process, perhaps pregnant, perhaps holding a briefcase, perhaps wearing a hard hat, perhaps holding hands, and so on. On the stage, the cast is in somewhat similar motion, evoking Robbins’ Glass Pieces. In fact, the Max Richter score, featuring solo pianist, Paul Stobart, and Conductor, Matthew Scott Rogers, was not much unlike Glass’ repertoire. Julian Opie, Mr. McGregor, and lighting designer, Lucy Carter, created a work that magnetized the audience. Within the sound effects, water, birds, static, and whistles were added. The cast of twelve included a well-known ballet figure in New York, Natalia Osipova, whom we missed at Ballet Theatre, recently, due to injury. She had a low key role here, and seemed fine tonight.


Voices of Spring (1977-78): Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Music by Johann Strauss II, Performed by Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell.

After seeing Infra, from The Royal’s Resident Choreographer, we were shown a six-piece selection of brief works, called Divertissements. The first of these pieces was by Ashton, his 1977 Voices of Spring, set to the “Frühlingsstimmen” waltz by Johann Strauss II. It was first seen in the Royal Opera’s 1977 Die Fledermaus in the ball scene and later renamed Voices of Spring, when performed as a gala pas de deux. This turned out to be one of my favorite of the Divertissements, with petals falling on Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell, both ebullient and effervescent. They swirled about each other and spun like a wedding confection centerpiece. The dancers flutter limbs en air like wings of canaries. My notes indicated a wish to see more, but, alas, this is not excerpted from a full-length ballet, so a repeat viewing of this Pas de Deux will have to suffice...

Borrowed Light (2015): Choreography by Alastair Marriott, Music by Philip Glass (“Piano Etude No. 2”), Solo Piano: Kate Shipway, Performed by Marcelino Sambé. Marcelino Sambé, from Portugal, is an artist to watch, who may achieve status in the Carlos Acosta genre of bravura danseur. To a Glass piano score, performed brightly by Kate Shipway, solo piano, Mr. Sambé moved with primal, percussive force, drawing gasps and adulation from the audience. His muscularity certainly added visual heft to the moment. This is another work I’d like to revisit.

The Dying Swan (2014): Choreography by Calvin Richardson, Music by Camille Saint-Saëns, Solo Piano: Paul Stobart, Solo Cello: Frederick Zlotkin, Performed by Calvin Richardson.

Here, I was quite disappointed and should have closed my eyes to listen to the searing piano-cello score played live by Paul Stobart and Frederick Zlotkin. Calvin Richardson, from Australia, was more Lil Buck than Anna Pavlova, and worse, with a cheapening effect on a ballet stalwart for galas and similar divertissements. New York balletomanes have enjoyed Nina Ananiashvili’s The Dying Swan, among others, in past seasons, and Mr. Richardson did not even try to be charismatic. He would be more suited to an abstract genre than one with heartrending emotionality. When a man dances this work, I prefer it à la Trockadero, and, for a woman, à la Pavlova. Drama, please.

Le Train bleu ‘Le Beau Gosse’(1924): Choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, Music by Darius Milhaud, performed by Vadim Muntagirov. Once again, this piece had no charisma, no interest, no worthwhile inclusion in the program’s six-segment Divertissements. Vadim Muntagirov, from Russia, wiggled his muscles and proudly pranced like an Olympic athlete or circus strongman, in a solo from the Nijinska-Cocteau, Milhaud collaboration, “Le Beau Gosse” (“handsome young chap”) from Le Train bleu. Again, this soloist was wasted here, as the New York balletomanes would have loved to see a little something better from the 1920’s Ballets Russes.

Aeternum (Pas de Deux, 2013): Choreography by Christopher Wheeldon, Music by Benjamin Britten, Performed by Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli. Now, back to bliss, with Christopher Wheeldon’s Pas de Deux from his 2013 Aeternum. Mr. Wheeldon is enjoying a very big year, with a Tony win for American in Paris and many new choreographies at City Ballet and well beyond. I only wish I could see this entire ballet, as tonight’s Pas de Deux was exquisite, especially thanks to Marianela Nuñez, who was superb in the Royal Ballet’s first program presentation of Song of the Earth I look forward to her performance later this week in Ballet Theatre’s Cinderella, by Ashton.

Tonight, with Federico Bonelli partnering Ms. Nuñez, there were echoes of Wheeldon’s 2013 A Place for Us, his 2012 This Bitter Earth, and, mostly, his 2005 After the Rain. Among today’s crop of choreographers, Wheeldon remains my favorite, even for his gorgeous 2012 Cinderella. Christopher Wheeldon is Artistic Associate of The Royal Ballet. In his 2013 Aeternum Pas de Deux, danced to Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Ms. Nuñez and Mr. Bonelli were breathtaking and eloquent. Chemistry was rampant, and their bodies wound together with sinewy pliancy. This piece, like some others in Divertissements, was all too brief and enigmatic. I would love to see this ballet in its entirety, soon.

Carousel (“If I loved you”) (Pas de Deux, 1992): Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, Music by Richard Rodgers, Arranged by Martin Yates, Performed by Sarah Lamb and Carlos Acosta. And, speaking of bliss! Carlos Acosta, who will soon leave New York again, forcing his fans to settle for filmed Royal ballets, was all hormones and passion, seducing and abandoning Sarah Lamb in MacMillan’s “If I loved you” Pas de Deux. MacMillan died of a heart attack before he was able to see his last ballet onstage, included in Nicholas Hytner’s 1992 revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel at the National Theatre. Mr. Acosta, a human panther, with muscles glistening in the lights, as Billy, tosses, lifts, chases, and embraces Ms. Lamb, as the ingénue Louise. This Pas de Deux is thoroughly evocative of MacMillan’s balcony scene in his Romeo and Juliet, with its wild abandon, its searing sensuality, and its charged, youthful energy. Here’s one more all too brief ballet, fittingly danced last, that I’d love to see again, and then again.

The Age of Anxiety (2014): Choreography by Liam Scarlett, Music by Leonard Bernstein, Designs by John Macfarlane, Lighting by Jennifer Tipton, Solo Piano: Robert Clark, Performed by Laura Morera, Steven McRae, Bennet Gartside, Tristan Dyer, Kevin Emerton, Luca Acri, and Leticia Stock.

Liam Scarlett’s 2014, complex and edgy The Age of Anxiety, with a Bernstein score, closed The Royals’ run at the Koch. More than once I was drawn to similarities to Robbins’ 1944 Fancy Free, with three sailors, a New York bar, and lady passersby. In the Scarlett choreography, it’s the woman who woos the men, bringing three home for extra drinks and, conversation…maybe more, so she thought. Two leave, one falls asleep on the couch. Earlier in the bar, a fistfight ensued, when one of these men had manhandled a soldier’s lady, and the couple fled. Costumes and hair reflect a World War II era, as does the jazzy, midnight score. Yet, this ballet was part of the World War I centennial celebration in Britain.

Laura Morera is the adventure-seeking Rosetta, dancing in heels, and the three men with casually conflicted desires, toward each other and toward the women, are Steven McRae as Emble, Bennet Gartside as Quant, and Tristan Dyer as Malin The bartender is Kevin Emerton, the soldier is Luca Acri, and his girlfriend is Leticia Stock. John Macfarlane’s New York bar is decorated with rows of colorfully lit liquor bottles. His apartment and skyline set, as well, are perfectly suited to the angular sense of ennui and oft-atonal pitch. Robert Clark played solo piano with City Ballet Orchestra. Bernstein’s Symphony No. 2 was inspired by W.H. Auden’s tone poem, the title of this ballet.

Jennifer Tipton kept the early bar scenes and later street scene dim and moody, while Rosetta’s uncluttered apartment and the morning skyline were warmly lit. It seemed that the stage was too cluttered for dance, with frequently changing scenes, some of which opened like a “v”, upside down, so ballet could occur, before sets were switched again. But, the takeaway was learning about the Auden poem, Bernstein’s 1930’s and 40’s state of mind, and Scarlett’s interesting analytical take on a random night in New York, among seven characters. Liam Scarlett was The Royal’s first Artist in Residence. His ballet is an homage to the existential state of urban New York, and maybe an homage to the bartender, who’s drawn into a different drama each night. .

Kudos to The Royal Ballet.

Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli in "Aeternum"
Courtesy of ROH, Johan Persson

Royal Ballet Ensemble in "The Age of Anxiety"
Courtesy of ROH, Johan Persson

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at