The intimate space of the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre is the perfect setting for Cathy Marston’s innovative and exhilarating choreography. Three works, one a World Première, all packing much more in terms of impact that the timings would suggest, and showing that the Royal Ballet can be just as exciting as some of the wilder fringe companies.
The major work is Traces, using an evocative score by Yann Tiersen. Anyone who has seen this engaging Frenchman perform live (or heard his award-winning soundtrack for Amélie) will know that his mixture of instruments and irresistible tempi were just made for dancing, and full marks to Cathy Marston for bringing his sound pictures triumphantly to life.
For an essentially abstract piece of dance there are lots of stories being played out in front of our eyes, helped both by the witty choreography and by the expressive dancers. It helps of course that in such a small space every nuance and facial expression is visible, even from the back of the theatre, and so the ecstasy and agony of first love, disappointment, jealousy, hope and despair are beautifully realised.
Tiersen’s music – ranging from a wild fiddle / accordion romp with middle eastern overtones to the serenity of limpid piano – suggests youth, and the cast of four men (boys) and three women (girls) are superb at making us believe in their emotions. Costumes are simple and effective (the teenage boys start off in what seem to be cut off jeans, the legs of which are then rolled down as they start to mature) and the stage is bare apart from clever use of rectangular pools of light to create different spaces within which the dancers move.
Among many delights there is possibly the best balletic lover’s tiff ever seen (and some astonishing slow-motion lifts and holds that must be fiendish to perform) and a delightful sequence in which the tomboy femme fatale gets herself into a Jules et Jim situation (having started by entrancing all four of the boys, to the fury of their new girlfriends). Like Amélie, this is a joyful and life-enhancing work.
Broken Fiction, a short ballet receiving its World Première, is intriguing. With a spare score played live by the ensemble Between The Notes (cello, guitar, piano, percussion and soprano sax) it relates the disjointed relationship between a man and a woman, influenced by the writing of Hanif Kureishi. Certainly his novel Intimacy comes to mind as you watch the two dancers come together uncertainly, tentatively, then with passion, only to have the feelings abruptly truncated. The cycle is repeated again and again until at last, the relationship seems to be moving forward – but is it love or hate they find?
Unstrung Tension was an unexpected treat. An abstract piece set to a cello solo by Carl Vine – Inner World – it’s masterfully played on stage by Matthew Barley of Between The Notes. In fact it’s not quite a solo because there is also recorded electronica, and the overall effect is quite mesmerising. There are five dancers (four men, one woman), dressed in unisex brown shorts and singlets, and performing within strips of light of varying widths – until at the end they escape the bounds of their restricted space as light finally floods the whole stage. If this sounds like a monochrome performance the effect is in fact dazzlingly colourful, through the constantly evolving choreography as the dancers engage with one another and are seemingly blown around the stage by the music. Brilliant.