Dance review: The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House


The Human Seasons, David Dawson’s new work for The Royal Ballet, is speedy, athletic and hectically busy. The curtain rises and falls on four couples, already in the middle of over-the-head lifts. It’s the nearest Dawson gets to a still moment.

The second of five new Royal Ballet productions this season, The Human Seasons shares a triple bill with Wayne McGregor’s Chroma and Kenneth MacMillan’s The Rite of Spring. Born and trained in Britain, Dawson has spent most of his career abroad, creating works for companies from Dutch National Ballet to the Mariinsky Ballet. His work isn’t often seen in his home country; The Human Seasons is his first work for The Royal Ballet.

It’s inspired by an early poem by Keats, which sees the span of human life in terms of the four seasons, from “lusty Spring” to the “pale misfeature” of winter. Yumiko Takeshima dresses the six men in white leggings, with bare chests. The seven women wear black leotards with fiddly detailing. Greg Haines’ new score is lyrical, with meditative strings and rippling percussion, while Eno Henze’s set frames the action with minimalist walls and slanting beams of light.

Yet there’s little contemplation in Dawson’s work, or much variety in the different seasons. The opening for four couples spins into a circling rush of people, with Steven McRae whizzing through a dazzling solo of jumps and turns. Sometimes a man will stop in a planted fifth position as the other dancers whirl past him.

Marianela Nuñez is partnered by all six men. The way she’s passed from hand to hand recalls a scene from MacMillan’s Manon – but MacMillan made it clear that each man was in thrall to Manon’s beauty. Dawson’s men are so bogged down with the mechanics of partnering that they barely have time to respond to Nuñez as she’s thrown and turned and tugged. Dawson’s women are often dragged about by their ankles, swung or slid across the polished floor.

The thirteen dancers are fast and fearless, with Lauren Cuthbertson, Edward Watson and Sarah Lamb standing out. For all its speed, The Human Seasons lacks pace. There’s no contrast to set off the fast steps; everything gets lost in the rush.

McGregor’s 2006 ballet Chroma won him the job of resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet. Its tangling moves and thrusting limbs seemed slightly softened at this performance, with less blare to Joby Talbot’s brassy settings of music by The White Stripes. The production’s sense of space and energy still pack a punch.

MacMillan’s Rite of Spring frames Stravinsky’s score with heat-drenched Sidney Nolan designs and stomping corps dances. Zenaida Yanowsky is a heroic Chosen One, driving through her sacrificial solo with fierce, angular conviction. As she nears the end, her limbs shiver and shake with exhaustion. It’s a detail that can get lost in the real physical demands of this dance; Yanowsky has both the tremors and the Chosen One’s unstoppable conviction.

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