Sunday, 5 June 2016

'Obsidian Tear/The Invitation/Within The Golden Hour' at the Royal Opera House

Last week we went to see a triple bill of one act ballets performed by The Royal Ballet at The Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. Two ballets were new to me and one I'd seen before (the endlessly moving 'Within the Golden Hour').

The catalyst for going was 'Obsidian Tear', a brand new ballet by Wayne McGregor who became a firm favourite with 'Woolf Works' last year, and this was the second ever public performance of the ballet so that, in itself, is pretty special. Even more so since it was danced to music written by Esa-Pekka Salonen who also conducted the orchestra for that ballet, with Vasko Vassilev on jittery, scary violin (and who got a well deserved ovation at the end).

So, what is 'Obsidian Tear' about and is it 'tear' as in cry or as in rip? I have no idea what the answer is to either. I suspect that's part of the joy of the piece. It spins a yarn that we don't know and isn't explained but tells it through expressive and joyous movement that let's you make it up as you go along. So I will.

Some of the words that came to mind while I was mulling it over were Stygian, ancient, ritual, male, unknown and dark. O so dark. The bare stage remains bare and we meet two men in black and red dancing around each other, sometimes for themselves and sometimes to show off to the other, dancing in their own language and patterns. They're joined by seven more men in various black costumes, all competitive and trying to out-do one another in their athleticism. But what's going on? Some kind of ancient ceremony for men only, it seems, as each takes the limelight with one dancer introducing a slightly more menacing tone by elbowing, kicking and head-butting the red dancer out of the limelight so he can have his turn.

Swirling and constant movement, watching every part of the stage, each of the dancers seems to be dancing his own dance, none repeating the other, telling their own story in a language I can't decipher. But then black trousers picks up red trousers and carries him to the back of the stage and throws him into the fiery pit. That was a shock. Sacrifice? This is about sacrifice? Like the old Mayans and Aztecs where the sacrifice knew it was coming and were prepared?

And the dance moves on and on, swirling across the stage until black trousers jumps into the fiery pit himself and the curtain descends.

What's been going on here? It's primal, it involves ancient gods we've forgotten about and I was a witness. Phew! It's almost exhausting to watch. I've still got no idea what it's about but I want to see it again, to take me a step or two closer to the vision at the centre of this piece. This was art and I was part of it by simply sitting there and observing. It doesn't need any validation. It is.

'The Invitation' is a very different kind of ballet, an exploration of the loss of innocence by Kenneth MacMillan. It's the summer when a girl and a boy leave school and start the journey to adulthood along with their friends. The tone is set at the start with covering up the genitals and boobs of statues on the stage, a time of prudes and caution. But the young folks are invited to a party with adults who exert an unforeseen influence on the youngsters that ends up with the girl being raped by an older man. The man is agonised by his acts and the girl can't relate to the boy again. Her innocence has been lost.

Even though I was sort of expecting it, it was still a shock to see the rape on stage, the girl wrapped around the man's crotch and then slowly, so slowly, sliding down his legs. It was definitely an 'O!' sort of moment. And there was lots of tippy in this one.

The third ballet was 'Within The Golden Hour', a series of pas de deux and ensemble dances that go on and on and repeats it's wondrous beauty as you get dragged further into it and swirl and leap until you're exhausted.  This piece is by Christopher Wheeldon who explores repetition and solo dancing to the extreme. How they don;t bump into each other is a testament to their professionalism and training since, every now and then, there are so many dancers in the same space on stage that it gets mesmerising and almost addictive. The sound, the movement, the dynamics of them all doing the same - and/or - different things on stage is incredible. It takes your breath away.

These three ballets were all well worth seeing and, as ever, I've yet to be disappointed by the Royal Ballet. I didn't even see any of my favourite dancers but these performances were spectacular and well worth seeing again.  Every now and then when I caught my breath I wondered how on earth they can remember all the steps and movements in the ballets, how they don't forget where to stand or who to catch when they leaped? Endless, endless training and practicing, of course, and they achieve perfection in movement and art. When I fail to be astonished is when I've seen too much ballet. It hasn't happened yet.

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