Royal Ballet Artistic Director Kevin O’Hare has put together a mixed programme for this season. Two of them consist of brand new works: the Illustrated Farewell and the Wind by Twyla Tharp and Arthur Pita respectively. Hofesh Shechter choreographed the third piece, Untouchable, which debuted on the Royal Opera House main stage in 2015. It is interesting to see how Kevin has skillfully combined such different works together. The fact that there are few elements for comparison between them, gives the audience the opportunity to have a pure view of each work and enjoy them separately. The three pieces are very distinct and rich in detail. For this reason, I will split my review into three different posts by starting with the Illustrated Farewell.
I have already given my first impressions of Twyla’s new work on the rehearsal video, in which she explains that the Illustrated Farewell consists of a prequel of the first two movements of Haydn’s Farewell Symphony and the Joffrey Ballet’s original As Time Goes By.
As the orchestra plays the initial chords, Principal Dancer Steven McRae leaps into the stage with an impressive Grand Jeté. He almost flies from one side to the other. His energy levels are huge and his movements are so expressive that can be easily noticed by members of the audience sitting in the last few rows of the Anfithreatre. Then, Prima Ballerina Sarah Lamb appears jumping around following the same rhythm. Her extensions are incredible and her performance is mesmerising. They both perform solos for a while and then engage themselves in the partnering work which involves lifts and waltzes. The allegro steps allow the dancers to showcase their capabilities and flawless techniques. The pas de deux is complex and intricate; the addition of flexible torsos and glides makes the piece joyous and fun.
In this work, Twyla clearly wished to put the dancers in evidence. She removed all distracting elements, such as props and heavy costumes. Steven wore a minimalist dégradé set of shorts and sleeveless top ranging from chocolate brown to off-white. Sarah appeared in a skirted leotard of the same pattern., which produced a harmonious matching effect between the pair. The bare stage is pitch black. It contrasts with the dancers’ pale completions enhanced by the warm lighting. However, a seamless backdrop joining the back wall and the floor to conceal the floor scratches and marks would produce a more aesthetic result.
Following, a corps of dancers enter the stage. Brazilian Soloist Mayara Magri shines on in her brown outfit. When she is on stage you only have eyes for her. Her eyes sparkle with joy. She is fast-paced, vivid and amazingly expressive. It is really pleasing to see her achievements over the past years. Nevertheless, she didn’t lose the grace and that youthful joy since when won the Prix de Lausanne in 2012.
As the group of dancers leaves the stage, First Artist Joseph Sissens, Soloists Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Meaghan Grace Hikin., start a sort of pas de trois. Their sequences are consistent with the whole ballet. They are a blend of clean and precise classical steps and expressive arms. Their turns, feet position, and en dedans pirouettes reveal the amount of effort they put in their daily classical training.
By that time, Steven and Sarah leave the scene and re-appear on a black platform placed at the back of the stage. The two dancers performed an adagio which connected with Joseph’s performance on the lower level of the stage. Putting the Principal dancers on a higher level was a clever idea. It gave the public a magnified perspective of the whole ballet. By placing the dancers on different heights, Twyla allowed the audience to follow their routines without getting confused or distracted.
Overall the Illustrated Farewell is an innovative piece. It shows that it is possible to combine the most exquisite classical technique with flexible expansive contemporary movements. Twyla’s dance vocabulary is huge and she is clearly musically knowledgeable. She can easily travel through different dance styles without compromising her creations. It was such a pleasure to see such amazing dancers performing such an ingenious ballet.