Friday, 18 November 2016

McGregor Triple Bill

Wayne McGegor
Author Deborah Hustic
Source Wikipedia/Random Dance Company
Creative Commons Licence

Royal Ballet Chroma, Multiverse and Carbon Life Royal Opera House 17 Nov 2016. 19:30

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of his appointment as resident choreographer at Covent Garden, the Royal Ballet has staged a short season of Wayne McGegor's works. These include two of his most popular creations, Chroma and Carbon Life, and a new work, Multiverse, which was performed for the first time just over a week ago. McGregor is remarkable for the volume of work that he has created, for the awards and distinctions that he has achieved for such work and for being the first contemporary choreographer to become a resident choreographer at Covent Garden.

Chroma is a work that I already know quite well having seen it several times, most recently by the Dutch National Ballet as part of their Cool Britannia programme (see Going Dutch 29 June 2015). The Dutch National Ballet is not the only company to perform that work. According to McGregor's website it has been danced by many other leading companies including the Australian Ballet, the San Francisco Ballet and the Bolshoi. One company that dances it particularly well is Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theatre as can be seen from the YouTube video below.

Standard YouTube Licence

No doubt that was why Luca Acri, Federico Bonelli, Lauren Cuthbertson, Sarah Lamb and Calvin Richardson of the Royal Ballet were joined on stage by Jeroboam BozemanJacqueline GreenYannick LebrunRachael McLaren and Jamar Roberts of Alvin Ailey. The latter company has just completed a tour of the UK visiting the Bradford Alhambra and the Lowry where I caught them (see Alvin Ailey in Bradford  29 Sept 2016 and Alvin Ailey in Salford 8 Oct 2016).  It was good to see them again, particularly Roberts who earned an especially loud applause at the end. He is tall, strong and commands the stage in the way few other dancers can.

In all three works that we saw last night, McGregor offered not just choreography (thrilling though it was) but total theatre particularly in the set designs and lighting. In Chroma, for instance, John Pawson's simple geometric shapes were bathed in subtly changing lights beautifully engineered by Lucy Carter. The importance of lighting - another principal in the show - is obvious from the title. The programme notes began with the dictionary definition:
  1. "The purity of a colour or its freedom from white or grey
  2. Intensity of distinctive hue, saturation of a colour"
When combined with Moritz Junge's costumes and Joby Talbot and Jack White III's score, this work excites all the senses. Clearly, that explains why the work is loved so much by audiences as well as admired.

Multiverse was more challenging, at least for me, even though similar techniques were used and Junge and Carter contributed the costume designs and lighting. The performance began quite unexpectedly with the curtain rising on a set with two figures against a plain geometric set of two high walls while the house lights were still on. The hubbub from the audience continued for a few seconds after the curtain rose until the realization that the show had started sank in. The house lights dimmed gradually and the words of a street preacher in San Francisco from over 50 years ago began to fill the auditorium:
"After a while - it's gonna rain after a while! For forty days and for forty nights! And the people didn't believe him. And they began to laugh at him! And they began to mock him! And the began to say 'It aint gonna rain.'"
In his famous work from 1965, It's Gonna Rain, which was written at the height of the cold war when the risk of thermonuclear war threatened to wipe out life on earth in the way that environmental catastrophe had threatened the world at the time of Noah, Steve Reich chops up that recording until it becomes percussive and repetitive. Not easy listening as anyone who plays the YouTube Steve Reich - It's gonna rain  will probably agree. But although the movements against the stark towering walls seem angular in the beginning the piece begins to soften. The walls break down into slabs of colour like the sides of a Rubik cube and eventually elements of a painting. It's Gonna Rain ends and the more soothing Runner takes its place. Reich is said to be America's greatest living composer. I have not heard enough of his work to judge but I have heard his Drumming several times which was used by Arthur Pita in Ballet Black's Cristaux (see Ballet Black in Doncaster 3 Nov 2016) and that work has definitely grown on me.

My favourite work of the evening was Carbon Life which began almost magically with the artists behind a gauze screen lit only by what appeared to be fairy lights. Music was provided by a live band on stage including a rapper called Dave who earned an enormous titter from the audience with his dig at President-elect Trump. Each scene presented something exciting and something new. The dancing was vigorous and exuberant. Carter provided the lighting once again and Gareth Pugh's costumes bordered on the fantastic. I particularly liked the colour combination such as the green stripes against the black.  Sadly, it came to an end all too soon. I felt compelled to rise to my feet as first the dancers and then the musicians appeared on stage to take their bow. Standing ovations do not happen every day at Covent Garden but these folks deserved it and I am glad to say one or two people in the stalls and more in the slips and circles seemed to follow my example.

I floated out of the Opera House on a cloud which carried me off to Holborn tube, followed me down the escalator onto the Piccadilly line and even on to the 23:30 train back to Doncaster.  Not even the exorbitant £20.90 parking charge (£5 more than my train fare from London) which the Frenchgate Centre extracted because all the spaces in the section reserved for rail passengers had bee full spoilt my evening. On the train back I read in the programme that McGregor came from Stockport which is just across the Mersey from Didsbury where I was born. Yet another reason to like him, I'd say.

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