What a wonderful afternoon. This is the second full length new ballet composed by Joby Talbot and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, following their tremendous success with Alice in Wonderland and it is just as good. It is also important to mention designer Bob Crowley and lighting designer Natasha Katz who also worked on both ballets so effectively. Many people only remember the direction “Exit pursued by a bear” at the end of Act I so there’s always fascination to see how it has been done. I won’t give it away – it’s good but not as brilliant as the bear in the Terry Hands production for the RSC which I saw in the mid-80s. On that occasion, the entire stage was covered in white fur representing snow throughout the first act. At the end, the whole thing reared up and became an immense bear – fantastic but it wouldn’t be practical to dance on fur. I’ll give a clue that there are similarities in the two approaches. Christopher Wheeldon likes to develop his choreography directly with the dancers, so the matinee I saw was not danced by the ones who helped develop it. I am not sure this was any disadvantage as it gave them a chance to bring an extra something to the part. On this occasion, the star was Bennet Gartside as Leontes, an amazing performance as he replaced Thiago Soares who was supposed to dance it this afternoon. His dancing was superb and, above all, he captured the character of the king, as he moved from happiness through jealousy and tragedy to joy. My only regret is that I only booked for one performance and now it is sold out so it will probably be a couple of years before I see it again.
First up, Chroma. I thought I detected some White Stripes riffs there, so I checked that co-composer “Jack White III” is indeed that Jack White. It is, and I love his self-deprecating website which I found when checking. The music, co-written and arranged by Joby Talbot, was terrific for dance, with strong rhythms driving Wayne McGregor’s superbly danced choreography. Next up, The Human Seasons. Greg Haines’ music was pleasant, as was David Dawson’s choreography, but it did go on and my mind wandered away a number of times.
Finally, the wonderful Rite of Spring which I still think this is the greatest ballet score ever written. I always find the Royal Opera House stage amplifies the sounds of the dancers rather annoyingly but Kenneth McMillan’s choreography gets the dancers using it, hands and feet rasping across the fabric covered stage and feet thumping as complementary percussion to the excellent orchestra. Claudia Dean was first class as the Chosen One and my attention only ever left the stage to watch the orchestra which I could see last night thanks to my more expensive ticket than usual: a whole £11! Well worth it for The Rite alone (and if they’d cut the central piece I could have been home at a civilised time).