It's two long years since the Royal Ballet notched up a world premiere, and if the box office controlled these things it would be longer still. But if you accept that new work is the lifeblood of any performing enterprise, then Wednesday's hat-trick of premieres delivered a full-blown transfusion. It also issues a ringing declaration of faith in British creative talent, which bodes only good things for the RB's future.
Banish any thought of new ballet as difficult or dour. Every one of these new, none-too-long creations creates the kind of interval conversation that turns a polite hum into a roar, as patrons excitedly exchange thoughts about their personal favourite moments. The most obviously accessible of the new works is William Tuckett's duet, by dint of its having a modicum of narrative and two very sexy stars. The emotional territory of Proverb is familiar to long-term lovers: that grey area when euphoria has tailed off into habit. But can a dance really get a handle on such a slippery topic? Only partly, it seems, though the attempt - as photographers say - makes good pictures.
Alternating loving clinches and give-me-space repulses, the choreography delineates the problem as one of a game of magnets. It doesn't dig terribly deep, in other words, and could tip into problem-page cliché but for the rescuing zeal of Zenaida Yanowsky and Adam Cooper. She: serpentine of torso, evasive of glance. He: ruggedly alluring, puzzled, angry, hurt. They chime convincingly as a couple, and their clean-etched attack on every step and gesture is a joy. But even these two consummate actors struggle to find meaning after the fiftieth moody glance. And the audible Wittgenstein aphorism used in Steve Reich's vocal score adds only another layer of riddle.
The new trio from Russell Maliphant doesn't have any story as such, yet for me its obliqueness is richly telling. Broken Fall was commissioned by the ex-Royal "ballet boyz" Michael Nunn and William Trevitt, for eventual touring by for their company George Piper Dances. But for its first five performances the pair are dancing it with Royal diva Sylvie Guillem, and in the new spirit of open-mindedness it's on loan. Nunn and Trevitt were already on intimate terms with Maliphant's velvety macho style via two major duets which form the backbone of GPD's repertory. Famously, these broke new ground in bringing close male friendship to the stage: intimate but non-sexual, tough but non-aggressive. So what happens when you throw a woman into the mix? Something different, and more edgy.
When Guillem makes her entrance it's with the air of a cat scenting toms. Nunn and Trevitt have been striking low-slung, discus-thrower poses, gilded statues under dim bronze lights. In this game of trust and dare, it's clearly un-cool to show enthusiasm. Thus when Guillem casually leans against Trevitt and lets him take her weight for a second it's almost as if by accident. The tension crackles as she prowls and circles, gradually allowing greater intimacies in the form of swivelling lifts and casually complex interlockings.
Before long the three golden figures - super-athletes in kneepads and gym trunks - have become a motorised Three Graces, connecting in ever-more intricate cog-systems of super-lube smoothness. Guillem flies at the angle of Concorde and lands precariously held aloft by the hipbones. She drops like a stone or is toted like a rifle. The movement looks soft as quicksand, until a leg flicks out a lizard's tongue, or Guillem flips her body round another's like a game-keeper's snare. Michael Hulls' lighting and Barry Adamson's free-associating taped score up the ante as the physical daring piles on. And at the climax the breath is literally sucked from the audience's lungs in what has to be the riskiest, most life-threatening fall outside the circus. Yet Maliphant's trio is much more than the sum of its daring. The relationships by the end read like a thriller.
Wayne McGregor's Qualia, a big event for 19 dancers, looks at first to be a more cerebral affair. Taking its title from the neuroscientists' term for raw sensory experience, McGregor apparently set out to create some kind of kinetic model for recent discoveries about the brain. Though on first viewing it's not clear quite how this works, it does give him a wondrously busy canvas.
Where Maliphant's interest lies in oiling connections, McGregor's schtick is all to do with speed. He uses the ballet body (pointe shoes, attitudes and all) but injects electric squiggles that make it manic. Edward Watson's fabulous opening solo is beautifully controlled, but he could be holding a bare light fitting for all his ticks and judders. Armies of girls in bum-skimming mini-dresses kick and shiver and click together like, well, like synapses snapping into action in brain tissue. DJ Scanner's electronic score (reconfigured every night) locks every sinew into its driving, seething rhythms. The combined technical challenge of spine-snapping speed, off-centre balance and kooky detail is clearly relished by every dancer. This is hot, it's on the edge, and it's just what the Royal should be doing.
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