Jive, playing at soldiers and duets

Matthew Hawkins/ Sheron Wrey | Clore Studio, Royal Opera House, London
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The Independent Culture

Way above the top level of the Royal Opera House auditorium is the new Clore Studio. Both rehearsal and performance space, it formed part of the theatre's redevelopment and exists to make new work possible - a fact that prompted Michael Kaiser, the ROH executive director, to lend his personal help in getting activities there started without delay.

Way above the top level of the Royal Opera House auditorium is the new Clore Studio. Both rehearsal and performance space, it formed part of the theatre's redevelopment and exists to make new work possible - a fact that prompted Michael Kaiser, the ROH executive director, to lend his personal help in getting activities there started without delay.

The result is a short season by two choreographers from outside, both given space, time and support from Royal Ballet volunteers for administration, planning and fundraising. Sheron Wrey was the first, with Live, a collaboration between her company JazzXchange and jazz composer Byron Wallen. A strange mixture of western and African traditional instruments, plus a gamelan, accompanied dances that included jive, playing at soldiers, duets and, later, pretending to die, grieve or be alarmed.

A stern programme note about the impact of Aids in Africa revealed what was on Wrey's mind, but the piece never became explicit enough, and a long final section for the choreographer with Wallen's solo trumpet seemed indulgently tacked on to something already as complete as it was ever going to be.

Wrey's background is entirely in contemporary dance; Matthew Hawkins began as a Royal Ballet dancer (and a notably good one) before moving to an independent career where his collaborations have included Michael Clark, Rambert Dance and the Hackney Empire. Returning to his starting point, but finding everything as much changed as he himself, has provoked a markedly individual reinterpretation of classicism in Angels and Exiles.

His starting point is a luscious, little-known composition by Cesar Franck, extracts from Redemption, with singing and spoken text by Edouard Blau. Hawkins concentrates on the sound. Inspiration comes also from the setting, the great, high-ceilinged, mirrored studio, surrounded by ballet barres and ample space for dancing; also from the mixture of dancers, himself and the admirable Yalckun Abdurehim and Kaori Suzuki from his own company, six Royal Ballet dancers, some very young, and a member of Anjali, a company of disadvantaged dancers with whom Hawkins has simultaneously been working.

Hawkins brings out the separate personality of each dancer, yet unites them all in patterns that cohere or effectively contrast. He uses a wide vocabulary of steps, subsumed into a sustained style and spreading handsomely right across and around the space.

Pearl, his regular designer, has dressed everyone in elegant black unisex tunics and tights; there is a minimal and witty decor in the form of a cable made by Sophia Clist from ballet shoes, wound around one corner of the barre; and Charles Bamfour's lighting effectively transforms the whole look and feeling of the space to match the dances' varied moods.

After a recent series of ballets from other sources which have offered clever ideas (or sometimes not so clever) rather than real choreography, it is a pleasure to see a presentation that concentrates on beautiful and inventive dancing. Whatever else comes of the Clore Studio, Angels and Exiles already justifies all the effort and expenditure that has gone into it.

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