Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Serenade/Sweet Violets/DGV Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, 14 May 2014

Zenaida Yanowsky and Eric Underwood in DGV, photo by Bill Cooper
I had one of the best nights of my life watching the Royal Ballet's Serenade/ Sweet Violets/ DGV triple bill on 14 May. I bought the tickets (and stayed in London a week longer than I needed to) specifically to catch DGV, which I've been waiting about 6 years to see, ever since first learning about Christopher Wheeldon. After watching some clips of the ballet back then, the music also struck me, and I can honestly say I've been listening to MGV on repeat since 2008.

 Having the music so deeply ingrained beforehand, I had come to expect something stereotypically rhythmic, aggressive and perhaps a little repetitive -- and was truly delighted to find so much quiet space and fluid languidness in each of the 5 movements/regions of the piece. The start of it is beautiful and whimsical -- a "passenger corps" waves and jumps about in the backdrop, while Eric Underwood and Zenaida Yanowsky slowly twist their bodies, as if winding up to unleash the ferocity and purposefulness that then explodes in region 1.

Zenaida's lines are sharp and her expressions stark. I didn't know what journey she was on but I wanted to head there too. Even for how biased I already am, I simply couldn't tear my eyes away from the way she struck at every step with deep seated purpose. As a result I really didn't pay much too much attention to Eric, but he was a delight to watch in his own right (I do love him in everything I've seen, especially Mr Caterpillar in Alice), and also looked to be a wonderful partner. Having never ascended to that level of ballet myself, I don't necessarily know what makes good partnering, but I actually find myself often distracted by Zen's partners because they simply... Don't seem to know their way around her. Eric, however, moved her smoothly and expertly, and extremely strongly, all of which I suppose comes from having created the roles together and danced it since 2006.

Next pairing were Natalia Osipova and Edward Watson. I first watched Natalia in Coppelia when the Bolshoi visited London in 2010, and her allegro is really something else. She flits about the stage like -- in no insulting terms at all -- a fly you cannot kill. The speed of her attack is whiplash. (Edward though, I have to watch again... I simply kept going "Wait what are you doing here Leontes?" I'm not used to him being in a modern I suppose, and Natalia kept drawing my attention away.) I'm afraid that beyond this point I seem to have quite a patchy memory of the piece (though the emotions are vivid..!), but in general the visuals were just gorgeous -- the corps weaving their way around the principals and the set, the principals' simultaneous pas de deux in the 5th region, and of note, I love Jean Marc Puissant's interlude with the rising blue light, as Thiago Soares floats Marianela Nunez in on an impossible lift. The piece on the whole was simply miraculous. The steps take you through the same gamut of emotion and thought that the score does. As the curtain fell on the last mystical, gentle spinning of the ladies as gears, I literally yelled "OHMYGOD" in all the teenage frill I could muster.

Now that I've waxed lyrical about my favourite, on to the rest of the show. Serenade I've seen perhaps 5 times in my life -- it's a must do for any company visiting Singapore somehow. But while I've unfortunately developed quite a distaste and confusion for Balanchine, that night was truly enrapturing. It owes very much to Marianela, Lauren Cuthbertson and Melissa Hamilton, who actually characterized their arrant roles to make it interesting and weave a cogent (if still out of nowhere) storyline. Lauren, especially, had such a delightful reckless abandonment that left a huge smile on my face. I'm really appreciating her more and more with each role -- her expressions and inflections are coming close to that Zenaida-like quality that sucks me in deep. (Fantastic, the post-Zen era I'm dreading might be bearable after all.) Ryoichi Hirano was a new discovery for me as well -- I don't think I've seen him before and I really enjoyed his grace and elegance. To be honest that quality is reminiscent of what I've always enjoyed in male dancers in the Singapore Dance Theatre -- perhaps there's actually an Asian flavour of dancing.

Finally, Sweet Violets. Even before the piece started I was confused why there wasn't a synopsis in the programme, and after, even more befuddled. It's an extremely rich and complex piece with twists and turns that can derail you, though on reflection, I'm not sure it's actually supposed to have a clear narrative. From what I could glean from the programme, it's meant as an exploration of Walter Sickert's psyche -- in that he could or he could not have been the one murdering all those ladies. (There's apparently supposed to be some visual distinction between what is real and what is fantasy, but it was completely indiscernible if it did in fact exist.) So from that perspective, I can quite appreciate the disarray and general tossed-salad of misogyny, spirals of depression and angst that it was, for the overall taste of unrest it imbues, much like I suppose is what Sickert is feeling. At the end you wonder... Did he kill those women or not? Which instead of being a programming issue, is probably what Sickert is thinking as well.

The acting all around was superb -- Thiago Soares and his deep conflict, Steven McRae and his evil slink, Lauren and her, well, troubled sluttiness, and Laura Morera and her highly disturbing solo. Sarah Lamb's lines are beautiful to watch.

On the whole, what I appreciated most about Violets was Liam Scarlett's use of the music. I was surprised that Rachmaninov's piece was the unedited original (a huge shout out also to the amazing pianist, cellist and violinist), because of how well matched the elements of the ballet are to the score. Perhaps though, this is what forces the piece to a certain degree of back and forth. One thing is that his steps can do with more variety (there seem to multiple iterations of the same twisting pas de deux -- beautiful but tiring after a while), but it's something I believe will come over time. He's not my favourite yet, but I'm excited to see what more will come from him, especially as he starts to introduce more dimensions into his characters.

In conclusion -- I love the Royal Ballet. I can't believe I get to see this type of art in my lifetime. I became a young Friend immediately after the triple bill... because there is some very epic stuff (read: Yanowsky/Bolle Manon) coming up in a few months and I am gunning for the best seats in the house. Bravi and eternal grattitude, Royal Ballet.

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