Monday, June 13, 2016

2x3 > 6 at the Obsidian Triple, Royal Ballet, 11 June 2016

It’s not often that I’m in London long enough to enjoy two casts of the same show. So it was a delight to discover that in watching both Obsidian Triples on the Royal Ballet’s last day of the season, I got to see what felt like 6 entirely different pieces.

Image credit: Andrej Uspenski
Obsidian Tear, Wayne McGregor’s new piece, swung my opinions the most from cast to cast. In the matinee, led by Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød, Nicol Edmonds and Benjamin Ella, the story came across as one in which Brændsrød and Ella were lovers, torn apart by society. Their movements were complementary; their pas de deux conversational.

However in the evening’s performance, led by Matthew Ball, Calvin Richardson and Edward Watson, Ball and Richardson presented a striking similarity in physique, which suddenly implied that they were two halves of the same person – with Richardson the tender hearted core of Ball, which he eventually could not live without. Compared to the afternoon’s portrayal, their movement geometries were much more alike, and their interactions more of self-recognition than of love.

My second viewing also had the advantage of familiarity – I was able to follow more of what was happening, and soon discovered the unique characterizations of the different dancers. Some have mentioned Watson as a type of devil character encouraging Ball to abandon Richardson. However there was an interesting nuance to this, where it was Eric Underwood whom Watson first incited, in a very intimate pas de deux where he literally rubbed his influence off on the former. Underwood was then the one who marked Richardson, ultimately condemning him.

The other key revelation of the evening’s version was Calvin Richardson – an astonishing young spark who gave a remarkably honest and brave performance. He embodied McGregor’s choreography perfectly, finding its softness in a way I’ve not seen other Royal Ballet dancers able to do before, and grounding the moves in an emotional truth. I am very much looking forward to seeing him again.

Image credit: Dance Tabs
The interpretations in The Invitation were also wildly different between afternoon and evening. It surprised me how much there is to the ballet – it gets unfortunately shortchanged in summary when the description jumps to the rape scene. Ironically, it was that scene which was the least poignant for me, because of the far more engaging and intricate character developments that preceded it.

Thomas Whitehead’s Husband in the afternoon was your classic perverted sociopath – not shedding an ounce of feeling from start to finish. He only knew possessions, not emotions – and The Girl was to him like a porcelain doll to be added to his chilling basement collection. He touched her tenderly at first, careful not to damage the packaging – then finally decided To hell with it, this one I actually want to enjoy, and ripped apart the packaging like a rabid dog.

Olivia Cowley also gave a notable interpretation of the Wife in the afternoon. It could be her likeness in age and demeanour to Yasmine Naghdi, but I immediately saw The Girl buried inside her Wife. She had a strange look of recognition upon seeing her Husband’s interaction with the Girl, appearing to know from the start exactly how events would unfold. Her pas de deux with the Boy felt like a reminiscence to a time when she herself was innocent, and she was merely trying to recapture a young love that was never afforded to her. God, that hurt to watch.

Instead of reopening old wounds, the evening’s performance cut entirely new ones. Its brand of anguish was rooted in how the poison of a loveless marriage could come to destroy the innocence in its path. Gary Avis and Zenaida Yanowsky portrayed a Husband and Wife whose pursuit of an outward decorum had left all their arguments unresolved, festering into a deep mutual hatred. Their disdain for one another was apparent from the moment they entered – as Avis sauntered callously away mid-introduction, you could cut Yanowsky’s irritation with a knife. The hatred was spread thickly onto their pas de deux, as they pushed each other away as violently as propriety would allow. These two incredibly powerful dancers brought so much history and subtext to their partnership, even when standing still, that I truly felt the urge to tell them to slow down and stop yelling at each other.

The Boy and Girl then entered into this mire, and the resulting interplay was remarkably rich. Vadim Muntagirov soaked up Yanowsky’s predation with such painful innocence; and Yanowsky’s pride was palpable as she lured him in. Hayward flitted haplessly from Muntagirov’s clumsy affection to Avis’ serene gravity; and Avis became increasingly amused by her flirtations, repeatedly shaking his head subtly to both chide her and express his disbelief about his growing power over her. It was a treatment so disturbingly gratifying that despite the occasion, I began to grin widely, suddenly beside myself with admiration for this magnificent company.

With Yanowsky, Avis and Hayward in particular adding so much texture to their interpretations, there was simply too much to take in. At some point, after trying desperately to watch the Wife watching the Husband watching the Girl watching the Boy, I had to give up. What I can capture within my limits as an audience member is far smaller than what these artists give on stage; and what I can put into words, even less.

Image credit: Royal Opera House
I lie – I actually only saw 5 ballets, because Within the Golden Hour was so surprisingly soporific that I tuned out equally in the afternoon and evening performances. Both casts were stellar of course in their execution, but something just didn’t hit home with Christopher Wheeldon’s choreography. It could be the God-awful costumes, as has been commented – but for me it was largely the lack of an underlying movement theme. Nothing keeps the piece together – it is simply a series of charming, but underwhelming, vignettes.

Anyhow. Dear Royal Ballet: I will miss you sorely this summer, even more than I already miss you from living oceans away. But come hell or highwater, I will always find my way to Covent Garden.

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