Archive for the ‘Sphinx’ Category

Review — Royal Ballet Triple Bill: Agon, Sphinx, and Limen, 13th November 2009

14 November, 2009

Marianela Nuñez as the Sphinx in Tetley's ballet Sphinx, Royal Ballet photo by Bill Cooper

This was a second visit, my first being on opening night. The dancers were the same, partly because of injury, although Sphinx should have had an entirely new cast. But this time I was close to the stage in the Stalls Circle, so things looked different. I’ll say nothing further about Agon, but make a few more notes about Sphinx and Limen.

In Egypt sphinxes represented power and vigilance, guarding temples. In Greece however there was but one mythological sphinx, represented with a female head and breasts, lion’s body, eagle’s wings and serpent-headed tail. In short a monster that was said to guard the city of Thebes, killing any traveller who could not solve the riddle it asked. In Cocteau’s 1934 play La machine infernale the Sphinx challenges her own destiny. Weary of immortality she desires love and freedom, and takes the guise of a young woman. She falls in love with Oedipus and tells him the answer to the riddle, enabling him to continue to Thebes and follow his destiny. Glen Tetley’s ballet Sphinx was inspired by Cocteau’s play, which he saw in New York in 1950, and he composed the choreography for just three dancers: Oedipus, The Sphinx, and her guardian Anubis, who warns her against falling for Oedipus. Once again Edward Watson was immensely powerful as Anubis, and Marianela Nuñez was a superb Sphinx, but from close up Rupert Pennefather was disappointing. He seemed to be going through the correct motions, but the dance didn’t come from within. In a part like this he needs a greater identification with the character —he needs to own the role.

Wayne McGregor’s new ballet Limen is in two parts, and I liked the first half with the bright costume tops. These disappear in the second half where the lighting is low and the on-again off-again blue lights distract from the action. In the dim light some of the dancers are stationary with their backs to the audience, while one or two dance around them. Apart from the fact that the screen came to the front with its lights mostly on, there was no resolution, but I would have preferred one, particularly since this was the last work of the evening.

Triple Bill — Agon, Sphinx, and Limen, Royal Ballet, November 2009

5 November, 2009

Melissa Hamilton and Carlos Acosta in Agon, photo by Bill Cooper

Agon is a Greek word meaning ‘contest’, and this 1957 Balanchine ballet is for twelve dancers who perform in twos, threes, etc. without any story. The music by Stravinsky is interestingly varied, some parts strongly represented by wind instruments, and others very quiet. The main pas-de-deux towards the end was brilliantly performed by Carlos Acosta and Melissa Hamilton, who continues to impress as a rising star in the company. In the two pas-de-trois we had Johan Kobborg with Yuhui Choe and Hikaru Kobayashi, and Mara Galeazzi with Valeri Hristov and Brian Maloney. The dancers all performed beautifully, and Daniel Capps did an excellent job conducting the orchestra.

Sphinx is a ballet by Glen Tetley to music of Martinů, originally choreographed for American Ballet Theatre in 1977. It’s based on Jean Cocteau’s La machine infernale, a reworking of the Oedipus myth, exploring the conflict between free will and fate. There are three dancers, the Sphinx, Oedipus and Anubis, the jackal-headed god who shepherds the dead into the Egyptian underworld. The choreography for the two men is intensely physical and both Edward Watson as Anubis, and Rupert Pennefather as Oedipus, danced like gods, while Marianela Nuñez was an attractively seductive sphinx. This was the first performance of the work by the Royal Ballet, and it used the original designs by the late Rouben Ter-Arutunian, with costumes by Willa Kim and lighting by John B. Read. The costumes were very effective, making the men look as if they were dancing naked, but with painted bodies.

Limen is a new ballet by Wayne McGregor. The title refers to the threshold of some physiological or psychological response, and we were presented at the beginning with dancers behind a transparent bluish screen. On the screen were projected single digit numbers of various sizes — like those on an LED display — that moved and changed value. The costumes by Moritz Junge were colourful tops with shorts, well set off by Lucy Carter’s lighting, which at one point showed thick bright coloured stripes from one side of the stage to the other. The choreography combined strong physicality alternating with moments of calm, but towards the end I found the production distracted me from watching the dancers. A screen with a matrix of small blue lights at the back of the stage moved very slowly forward, and as it did so some lights went out, while others came on. I’ve seen mysterious on-off lighting on stage before, but the trouble is that I’m always trying to work out the pattern and this distracts me from the dancing or singing that is the main point of the work. Obviously the lights were meant to recall the screen at the start, because as they came closer I could see that each light was a small single digit number. Presumably one has now gone over the threshold to a new level of reality.

The choreography fitted very well with the lovely music by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, conducted by Barry Wordsworth, who was also the conductor of the previous ballet Sphinx. Since this ballet was brand new, it was danced by a very strong cast of fifteen, including Edward Watson, Steven McRae and Eric Underwood among the men, and Leanne Benjamin and Marianela Nuñez among the women. It works well, but Wayne McGregor seems to have too strong a predilection for screens that distract from his choreography.