, May 2011
Wayne McGregor, the resident choreographer of the Royal Ballet for the past five years, presents three works on this Blu-ray disc as recent examples of his avant-garde yet completely fascinating choreography, based on contemporary scores. The ballets, filmed between 2008 and 2010, reflect McGregor’s latest takes on dance, liberated from the conventional boxes of traditional ballet. Fear not, conventional balletomanes, these pieces actually do work.
Chroma (2006) is a study in white whose ten dancers perform nine solo and ensemble routines against a stark backdrop, occasionally relieved by a black screen. McGregor interweaves the sometimes brash, sometimes dreamily romantic and always original score by Jody White who adapted punk rocker Jack White’s songs for his eponymous group, the White Stripes. This unlikely combination produces an effective support for a kinesthetic tour de force.
Infra (2008) is an existential ballet, in collaboration with visual artist Julian Opie. The music is supplied by composer Max Richter’s quintet. The space is deliberately dark with a steady stream of computerized figures that walk above the dancers. The overall effect contrasts the humanism of the dancers with the automation of the dot-matrix characters who share their stage. The music is a somewhat utilitarian score, in keeping with the rather limited artistic palette of the stage setting.
Limen (2009) uses Kaija Saariaho’s cello concerto as a basis for this ballet, creating an expressionist lighting background to highlight the dancers. There is an other-worldly nature to this performance that puts the human form on a stage of one’s imagination. The music is at once personal and the well adapted choreography quite intimate and moving.
Given the unusual and challenging backdrops of these ballets, the videographers have done a fabulous job of capturing the dance experience and bringing it home to the audience. There is a good balance between panoramas and close ups. Except for Chroma, the other ballets have a largely dark stage. The highlighting of the dancers and their highly physical choreography could not have been captured much better.
Straight to the point, the modern and often dissonant scores for these ballets will not be to everyone’s liking. Nevertheless, the sound engineers give an honest account of these pieces that conveys very well what one would have been hearing in the house with a minimum of stage effects.
Wayne McGregor gives three 5-minute preambles to the dances. While helpful to the uninitiated, I would have liked to have had some time with the dancers to get their takes on these uninhibited and very physical performances.
The Definitive Word
Contemporary choreography treads a thin line between the free dance forms and the traditional routines of classic ballet. McGregor has achieved a largely successful balance between genres with the assistance of an extraordinary corps de ballet. If I have reservations about any of these ballets, it stems from the choice of scores which do not generally fall easily upon the ear and would not seem intrinsically balletic from the start. All aside, this trilogy is worth a watch, even for the hard core traditionalists. You will see some amazing dancers pushed to the limits of physical performance and yet who manage to surmount the challenges that McGregor continually puts in their way. If this is a harbinger of things to come, the future of ballet appears to be in good hands.