Celebrating a glorious decade of choreographer Wayne McGregor at the Royal Ballet with a triple-bill of his greatest hits
There’s much to celebrate about Wayne McGregor’s ten years as resident choreographer at the Royal Ballet. The Stockport-born star, who came from the world of contemporary dance, has given the venerable company a radical edge, with his extreme physicality, ferocious intellect and passion for collaboration with artists in all media. And the three pieces assembled for this celebratory evening are a powerful demonstration of what he’s brought to the repertoire.
It’s a shame that the world premiere is the hardest piece to love. ‘Multiverse’ uses two scores by the minimalist composer Steve Reich – his first major tape composition, 1965’s ‘It’s Gonna Rain’, and a newly commissioned piece, ‘Runner’. The first is aural agony, a Pentecostal minister’s great flood sermon chopped and looped until it ends up sounding like a warning siren heralding the apocalypse. Steven McRae and Paul Kay dance together through the cacophony, falling in and out of sync with a playful bounce and jittering repetitions. Then huge photomontage images appear on the towering set walls, of what look like refugees being fished out of the Med, and a cut-up of what could be The Raft of the Medusa. Dancers flood the space, and urgent, nervous, twitchy combinations prevail until the lights go out and figures with torches lead them away. Then we take a leap into ‘Runners’, a purely musical, lyrical composition, which suggests hope after despair (albeit with lingering minor key unease), set against a wall of drifting, colour-shifting pixels. The thrust goes out of the dance, here, though, and the choreography feels diffuse, although Marianela Nunez and Ed Watson make a strong impression.
‘Chroma’, which opens the evening, is the 2006 work that won McGregor the RB gig and is a masterpiece that you could never tire of watching. On a stark set designed by the minimalist architect John Pawson, the dancers strut and preen as they test their physical possibilities to music by Joby Talbot, including his arrangements for The White Stripes. For this production, dancers from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater join the cast – and bring such energy, attack and cool insouciance to the complex, emotionally resonant and at times agonising-looking choreography that the RB dancers have to scramble to keep up. Jacqueline Green’s hyperarticulated grace and Jamar Roberts’s towering muscled strength particularly stand out.
‘Carbon Life’, revived for the first time since 2012, closes the night, It’s McGregor’s ultra-hip, pop-fashion collaboration, with crazy costumes by Gareth Pugh and a starry line-up of musicians and singers (Brody Dalle and Sam Sparro among them) on stage, performing music by Mark Ronson and Andrew Wyatt. It felt brash, overwhelming and a bit gimmicky before – now, though, the music feels more toned-down and the focus has shifted back to the 18 dancers, who, with slicked-back hair and often wearing little more than black pants, look downright sexy as they twist, arch and writhe in sinuous duets with rock star attitude – Eric Underwood and Francesca Hayward are notably gorgeous – or create excitingly kinetic massed ranks.
BY: SIOBHAN MURPHY