Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Royal Opera House, London


In an Olympic year full of artistic grand projects, The Royal Ballet ends its season with one of the grandest. Titian: Metamorphosis 2012 has seven choreographers, three composers, three designers, and the surprise is that this isn’t a case of too many cooks. It’s a coherent, stylish evening, with artists moving confidently into new areas.

In a collaboration with the National Gallery, the three new ballets are inspired by Titian’s paintings of mythological subjects. All three focus on the myth of Actaeon, turned into a stag after spying the goddess Diana bathing.

Machina, choreographed by Kim Brandstrup and Wayne McGregor, is the boldest of these works. It’s dominated by a vast mechanical arm, created by artist Conrad Shawcross. The robot is big and delicate, swooping slowly or thrashing fast. The light at its tip is first seen through gauzes: light travelling through the sky, phases of the moon.

Nico Muhly’s new score starts in a renaissance sound world, then sidles up to date. Brandstrup and McGregor have very different aesthetics, introverted and explosive, but here they meet in a fluent middle ground, with no jarring contrasts. There’s an alert duet for Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta. Another sets Acosta against Edward Watson, two very different men moving in unison. When Acosta edges too close to the machine, it goes haywire, churning furiously at his impertinence.

Mark Wallinger’s set frames Trespass, by Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon, with handsome monochrome curves. Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Nehemiah Kish float through a sleek duet, unfolding limbs in delicate lines. A frieze of posing men is less successful, but Melissa Hamilton makes a poised, darting goddess. Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae wind into intricate, complex lifts. Mark Anthony-Turnage’s score goes from percussive drive to chiming intimacy.

Diana and Actaeon is weaker. Choreographers Liam Scarlett, Will Tuckett and Jonathan Watkins spell out the story with far too much repetition, though Federico Bonelli is a speedy Actaeon to Marianela Nuñez’s imperious Diana. Chris Ofili's sets are stunning, a sexualised landscape of hot colours and writhing bodies. Jonathan Dove’s score is full of lavish textures.

This evening marks the end of Monica Mason’s directorship of The Royal Ballet. She leaves with a forward-looking finale, by choreographers she has promoted. She scampered on for her own curtain call, hugging herself with glee.

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