As One is a big deal for Royal Ballet First Artist Jonathan Watkins having choreographed since his youth while still a student at the Royal Ballet Lower School, this is his first work for the Royal Opera House main stage.
The work explores identities in the modern world, against a series of urban landscapes a house party, a lounge, a tower block, a waiting room, the stock exchange.
By showing how people act in different situations, Watkins is showing both us as individuals and our place in the wider social context.
There are some very nice touches. Steven McRaes solo against the flickering, bright lights of the stock exchange is both timely and spellbinding; Kristen McNallys drawn out movements are juxtaposed with the deadpan surrealism of a waiting room; the urban youths grounded, breaks-inspired movements (a little reminiscent of Hofesh Shechter) cant help but be slightly tongue in cheek, since you wont find urban youth anywhere with such elegant lines and perfect postures.
Other ideas are less effective. The repeated motives of drinking, typing and over-the-top hip swings lost their comic spark after the initial section and felt crude. It also seemed as though, keen to show his abilities, Watkins has over-choreographed somewhat, with movements acknowledging every beat, every change in the music, making some parts a little too busy.
But there is no denying that the ideas in As One are engaging and mostly well conceived. At just 25, Watkins has plenty of time to sharpen his edge, and with Wayne McGregor at the helm as the Royal Ballets resident choreographer ensuring more modern, experimental choreography, Watkins magnum opus is certainly still to come.
The evening was flanked by two revivals, the first being Kim Brandstrups Rushes Fragments of a Lost Story. The inspiration came from two things: early drafts of Dostoyevskys The Idiot and a film score composed by Prokofiev that never made it to the screen. Brandstrup took the notion of fragment how drafts of The Idiot were different to not only each other but also the published novel, how the 24 piano cues sound almost standalone precisely because the film was never complete and created a stunning piece that looked like a silent film reel resurrected from the past.
In drafts of The Idiot, unlike the final version, there is only one male protagonist who embodies both vulnerability and aggression. The opening nights leading male was Carlos Acosta, whose grace and virtuosity conveyed this dichotomy, making it perfectly clear how one can possess both of these elements. He is not just torn between two women but is literally the middle ground between Laura Moreras fiery scarlet-clad femme fatale and the shy, retreating figure of Alina Cojocaru, full of compassion and unconditional love. As the duets between Acosta and Morera become increasingly uncomfortable, he finally notices Cojocaru, who supports him both symbolically and physically (not a mean feat considering their respective sizes), and in one touching final embrace restored our faith in love and art, provoking a collective sigh from the audience.
Thematically, the final work of the programme, McGregors Infra, ties very well with As One and Rushes in the concept of identities, with the former two particularly in sync in their dealings with modern day life.
Infra is a series of human relationships, made more universal as they become almost miniatures underneath a giant LED screen with walking figures created by Julian Opie (whose signature style can be seen on the front cover of The Best of Blur) this can be anyone, or everyone. Interested by how language influences and shapes our understanding of the world, McGregor strived to break through this limitation to go back to the very foundation, of simply the physical and the emotional.
This drive to escape from the norm is also evident in McGregors distinctive choreography. His portrayal of relationships is subtle but immensely powerful, never reduced to storytelling or mime.
Away from their day jobs of princesses, princes and the like, this is the perfect springboard to show off the versatility of the cast of 12. The Royal Ballet has done a clever thing in appointing McGregor, and just watching any one small section the love/hate relationship between Eric Underwood and Melissa Hamilton, Sarah Lamb on the brink of breakdown will shatter any preconceptions about the company. And seen on stage underneath Opies screen and Max Richters haunting music, Infra takes your breath away and this wasnt even the first time Ive seen this piece.