Castle Nowhere, Royal Opera House, London

Cocktails and chit-chat on the road to nowhere
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The Independent Culture

When Pierre Boulez remarked some years ago that opera houses should all be blown up, he was making a point about the stultifying tyranny of buildings. Our own Royal Opera House, for all its superb facilities, encourages expectations that are not always helpful to creativity, or our appreciation of it. Why, for example, so many intervals in a ballet triple bill? No sooner have you settled in your seat and attuned your ears and eyes, than the lights go up and you spend 25 minutes (sometimes longer than the work itself) milling around the bar. Then the same thing happens again. No wonder ballet often feels ephemeral.

The centrepiece of the Royal Ballet's latest triple bill - a new work by young Canadian Matjash Mrozewski - falls victim to this cocktail-chat routine. Castle Nowhere sets out to capture the well-mannered but emotionally barbed world of a Henry James novella. It begins stunningly, the curtain rising on a fabulous Milky Way of suspended objects - mirrors, lamps, candelabra, a chair - that might have been hurled by the protagonists, at least in their imaginations.

Beneath it Edward Watson and Zenaida Yanowsky - a fashion-plate beauty in a bustle - stalk and prowl and wrestle, all angry self-loathing on his side and tortured yearning on hers. Three other couples in evening dress suggest a vague context of gossip, flirtation and treachery. Arvo Part's brooding music (we're not told what it is) builds to a point of tension where you expect a murder or worse. And then - phut - it's all over, just as you were getting interested.

Do we blame the choreographer for supplying too much subtext and too little dramatic substance? Or do we blame the demands of a building that needs to make money on interval drinks? Castle Nowhere feels like an enticing prologue to a much more substantial work in which something actually happens. Too bad it didn't have the space to be that.

'Castle Nowhere' appears with Christopher Wheeldon's 'Polyphonia' and Kenneth MacMillan's 'Requiem' in rep until 12 April, 020 7304 4000

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