Three out of Three: Ballet Review

Medusa

 

Medusa, the new ballet commissioned in breathless anticipation by the Royal Ballet, opens in shimmering sexy style with all the aesthetic of the Paris catwalk. Choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, darling of the moment, retells this classic Greek myth with his muse principal dancer Natalia Osipova in the eponymous role. Osipova is all snake, her legs and arms wrapping, biting and muscular as a serpent, but before we have a chance to know the characters, the dance is over. Design is à la mode, like a Dior advert for the women, with the men dressed in what appear to be teabag jumpsuits, or un-rendered computer game avatars, a concept that will quickly date the production, should it be revived. This short ballet is bookended by two revivals, Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, and Crystal Pite’s Flight Pattern

Flight Pattern

 

What is most interesting is that there is a real attempt to find coherence in this triple bill. Wheeldon’s ballet is neo-Balanchine, episodic and nice to look at as these Jasper Conran-dressed dancers fleetingly pass through our vision like mayflies. At times the joins between the classical and contemporary palette are too visible. But like a good watercolourist, Wheeldon catches the mood of being somewhere, and we feel good. The third episode is terrific. Two men, swift, almost an echo of Michael Clark, shift the dynamic to something much more interesting, and make a useful link to both Cherkaoui and Pite in texture. 

Another similarity between Wheeldon and Cherkaoui is that both choreographers are working across genres and draw ideas from them. Wheeldon has staged An American in Paris, to fantastic acclaim and well worth seeing, and Cherkaoui choreographs Beyoncé, among many other things. To make the packaging complete, the design commissions are smart and fashionable. Conran with one, and electro-music interventions (Olga Wojciechowska) alongside Purcell in the other. Cherkaoui, in particular, defies easy categorisation, and drifts between ideas along with his co-creators. I like the thinking around this kind of collaboration, which puts one in mind of the Diaghilev era where Matisse might work with Stravinsky. Yet is this a contrivance rather than art that changes our view of the world? 

Golden hour

 

Pite, on the other hand, is absolutely the real thing. As I watched Flight Pattern again, I had seen it the first time in 2017, I began to think of Picasso’s Guernica. Pite has, in my view, made a piece of art that can and does change minds and speaks of a point in human history that we must not ignore. At its centre is the plight of refugees and displaced people. It is painfully beautiful to watch and I would imagine must affect the dancers, too. I cried.

Royal Opera House, WC2E, until 21 May: 020-7304 4000, www.roh.org.uk

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