Sometimes things just don't work. The Pet Shop Boys, the world's favourite electronica duo, have launched into ballet, starting at the deep end with a three-act narrative work. It's an ambitious, sometimes clever project, fatally undermined by waffling choreography.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have always been an art pop band, collaborating with a wide range of artists. For The Most Incredible Thing, they've brought in choreographer Javier de Frutos, designer Katrina Lindsay, dramaturge Matthew Dunster and animator Tal Rosner to rework a Hans Christian Andersen story.
It tells the story of a fairy-tale competition. Whoever produces "the most incredible thing" will win half the kingdom and the princess's hand in marriage. The hero Leo, danced by Aaron Sillis, creates an extraordinary clock, which opens up to reveal dancing figures. Then the villainous Karl, danced by the former Royal Ballet star Ivan Putrov, smashes the clock and wins the competition. The clock's magical figures come to life and take revenge.
The Pet Shop Boys' score is carefully theatrical. There's a live orchestra, plus electronic beats and samples. There's even a snatch of a conventional pop song: in a sweet scene, we hear Tennant's voice as the princess (Clemmie Sveaas) dances in her bedroom. The duo have fun building up layers of sound, but the score doesn't have the irresistible sheen of their best pop.
The work often falls back on words, using video and projected text. It can't resist quoting good bits of Andersen's text, even if it means moving attention away from the principals. The competition becomes an X Factor spoof, but the scene falls flat; even this easy target needs more precision. De Frutos's choreography is shockingly weak. To evoke human creativity, he lugs on everything from pianists to astronauts, without giving them any good steps.
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