In the summer of 2009, by pure fluke, I managed to score a last minute ticket to the final night of ‘New Works in the Linbury’ at the Opera House. I was intrigued by the concept – an opportunity for dancers within the company to create their own pieces – and struck by two choreographers in particular: Liam Scarlett and Kristen McNally. Scarlett’s piece to Liszt’s Liebestraum showed that he was, to quote Lady Gag, on the edge of glory – Asphodel Meadows last season on the main stage showed just how much. McNally’s caffeine fuelled frenetic Yes We Did to Obama speeches was inspired.
McNally was back on form at last night’s ‘Draft Works’ with her new piece Lonesome Gun inspired by cowboy westerns. Her quirky and unique style is constantly pushing at the boundaries, tapping on edges that blur. She’s got the cowboy moves down to a t and you can’t help but laugh, although there’s an air of reverence in the background. The central pas de deux was stunning, Hayley Forskitt loses the cowboy hat as love interest Thomas Whitehead breezes fleetingly through her life. It’s an oddly touching yet amusing piece and I can’t wait to see where she goes next choreographically. I’m not sure I ever want her style to settle, I love the way she’s continually pushing and changing.
There were nine other pieces on display last night ranging showcasing a variety of styles. Seven of the pieces were choreographed by Royal Ballet dancers, three from outside the company. I’d be hard pressed to settle on a favourite, torn between Kristen McNally, Valentino Zucchetti and Thomas Whitehead’s pieces. Tamara Rojo also gets a notable mention for a piece that almost creeped the living daylights out of me (more on that later).
Thomas Whitehead’s i lean and bob was the real ‘laugh out loud’ piece of the evening, his first venture into choreography. It was a short, sharp, sweet vehicle for Sian Murphy and Riyochi Hirano busting their moves and it was brilliant. It started with the pair in the audience, Hirano drumming lightly on the edge of the stage and Murphy climbing over laps in the front row. They indulge in a bit of flirtatious impressing each other with their moves, segue smoothly into a bouncy pas de deux and finish off sitting on the edge of the stage having a cheeky kiss. Standard boy meets girl with a quirky dancey twist which leaves you hungering for more.
The final piece of the night was Valentino Zucchetti’s Brandenburg Divertissement set to Bach’s concerto for eight dancers and inspired by the Baroque element of it all. It was genuinely fabulous and wouldn’t look out of place in the slightest in a full on ballet that included a divert section. It was fun, it was flirtatious, it was a genuine joy to watch and it really was a case of ‘saving the best for last’. If I was pushed to single anyone out in it? Other than the fact that I’d squeak for about a century about not being able to choose, I’d say Beatriz Stix-Brunel’s complete recklessly joyful abandon in every step was incredible to watch. I’m going to leave it there before I get indecisive with squee.
Other notable mentions go to Tamara Rojo’s Into the woods which was the creepiest kind of Grimm fairy tale-esque piece that left me chilled to the bone and sort of wishing I’d watched through my fingers. I felt we needed more back story to it though, so many whys rushing through my mind as it played out to Camille Bracher and José Martin’s stunning dancing (most crucially it being: why did he have her tied up and why did she just not run away, why did she go back and tie them together?!) – more please, Tamara! Ludovic Ondeviela’s Feathers in your head choreographed on Lauren Cuthbertson and Bennet Gartside was also stunning – combining classical fluidity with the edgier, sharper McGregor inspired movements to tell a tale of love affected by Alzheimer’s, the Cuthbertson/Gartside partnership was impressively powerful. I also rather enjoyed Robert Binet’s At the River Styx for Yuhui Choe and Ricardo Cevera based on the tale of Orpheus journeying to the underworld, unable to look back or he’ll lose Eurydice. I particularly liked the fact that, impassioned though the pas de deux was, there was a lack of eye contact between the two highlighting the inability to look back.
All in all it was an enjoyable evening leaving me yearning for more.