Rap, murder and classic dance share Royal Ballet triple bill

Apr 11, 2012

From Mark Ronson rock, to crime scenes, three British choreographers give ballet a workout

What you need to know
The latest production from the Royal Ballet, Carbon Life/Sweet Violets/Polyphonia, is a triple bill by three celebrated British choreographers, Liam Scarlett, Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor. Royal Ballet director Monica Mason, in her final season with the company before retiring, commissioned new works from Scarlett and McGregor to be performed alongside Wheeldon's Polyphonia, set to ten piano pieces by Ligeti and first performed in New York in 2001.  
Wayne McGregor's new ballet Carbon Life features a score co-written by Amy Winehouse producer Mark Ronson, orchestration by Rufus Wainwright and an onstage band featuring Boy George, The Kills' Alison Mosshart and rapper Black Cobain.  
Liam Scarlett's Sweet Violets is set to music by Rachmaninov and inspired by a series of paintings and drawings by Walter Sickert depicting London's murky underworld, including the unsolved 1907 Camden Town murder of a prostitute.
What the critics like
The dancers are amazing in McGregor's Carbon Life, says Debra Grime in The Times. McGregor uses his large ensemble of 18 dancers powerfully, rather than solely relying on "the twists and extreme body waves" of his signature duets. The stage "pulses with gig fever" and the dance, like the music, is best when it "starts to get down and rock".  
Carbon Life is a blast, says Sarah Crompton in The Daily Telegraph. "The whole thing has a visceral energy that shoots out through the stalls." But it is Christopher Wheeldon's revived Polyphonia "which provides the most thoughtful and refined treat of the evening". Eight dancers sweep across stage with wit, emotion and insight to match the moods of Ligeti's music. "A master class in elegant neo-classicism, with a modern twist."

Scarlett's atmospheric Sweet Violets has a superb cast, says Zoe Anderson in The Independent. Johan Kobborg is a driven, nervy Sickert, with Leanne Cope vivid as one of the victims. Tamara Rojo is sensational as a model, slouching and challenging, weighted and weary as she poses, "she evokes a whole world".

What they don't like 
Carbon Life could and should have been the gig of the year, says Clifford Bishop in the Evening Standard. Instead it turned out to be "a lazy, complacent, 'it'll-look-good-on-my-cv' vanity project". Context is everything. McGregor's trademark wobbly bodies seem cerebral and futuristic set to Verdi, but "become an act of mockery when performed to someone belting out: 'I just want to be loved'."
Both Carbon Life and Sweet Violets are disappointing, says Ismene Browne on The Arts Desk. Scarlett's Sweet Violets is "an impenetrable jangle of narrative in the old style" while McGregor's Carbon Life offers an "unyielding jangle of amoeba-like dance in the new". Ultimately, each work "sinks under the ponderous weight of its own image-making".
The trouble is, Wheeldon and McGregor have set such high standards with their early work that both have subsequently struggled to match them, says Graham Watts on Londondance. Meanwhile, the younger Liam Scarlett has dived headlong into his first drama. It's confusing, with too much plot and too many characters, but Scarlett directs with "a confidence and panache" that will build his reputation.

  • At the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, until 23 April

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