Royal Ballet Triple Bill: Mark Morris Dance Group, Royal Opera House/Sadler's Wells, London

2.00

Three steps behind the competition

The Royal Ballet's latest triple bill keeps falling short of its ambitions.

Wayne McGregor's new Limen is framed by dazzling digital installations, but can't find the steps to match. Glen Tetley's Sphinx gets tangled in Greek myth, while Balanchine's Agon was shockingly under-rehearsed.

Limen is dominated by Tatsuo Miyajima's video designs. Numbers are projected onto a screen at the front of the stage, floating and turning. There's a remarkable illusion of depth, as if numbers were swimming past the dancers in a blue sea. Behind the screen, the 15 dancers come and go, vanishing into the blue shadows at the back of the stage. Kaija Saariaho's cello concerto, Notes on Light, is full of drifting, shimmering sound.

Miyajima's imagery overwhelms the dance inside it. The steps are inconsequential, full of McGregorisms – the arched spine with jutting buttocks, dancers grabbing their ankles to lift a leg still higher, the quick, dithering shifts of weight. This time, they're danced without McGregor's usual urgency. Eric Underwood ties Sarah Lamb into long-legged knots. The duet uses Lamb's strength and flexibility, but it's weirdly insubstantial.

Glen Tetley's pieces are full of muscular grapplings. Sphinx, created in 1977, uses pointework and weighted modern dance in a convoluted story inspired by Cocteau's play La Machine Infernale. Marianela Nuñez is on sensuous form as the Sphinx, who in this version falls for Oedipus (Rupert Pennefather). Anubis, danced with melodramatic intensity by Edward Watson, warns her it will end in disaster.

Tetley treats warning, doubt and love with the same brawny style. His dancers strike big poses, wind around each other and spin into fast turns or big leaps to the intense Martinu score. His symbolism and his narrative are overheated, but the dancers do him proud.

Melissa Hamilton stood out in the pas de deux from Agon, cool and poised in its extreme positions. Balanchine's ballet deserves more care: on the opening night, half the men reached their last pose two beats late.

Over at Sadler's Wells, the return of Mark Morris is cause for rejoicing. One of the world's most-loved choreographers, Morris is adored for his openness, his musicality and his warm, full-bodied style. This UK tour shows Morris back on form, with a programme ranging from lullabies to imperialism.

Empire Garden starts with dancers in near-darkness. There's a prowling softness to their steps, followed by a sudden sideways bend. At once, you can see the strength and style of this company. Danced to a Charles Ives trio for violin, cello and piano, it's a dense, knotted work to dense, complex music.

The dancers break from marching struts into jazz dance poses. Ives' snatches of folk songs are matched with brief marching steps, vanishing almost before you recognise them.

Bedtime is danced to Schubert lieder. A woman dances a lullaby, her movements floatingly soft. Around her, sleeping dancers shift position, snuggling into the stage. Sleep turns to nightmare with the final song, "Erlkönig", which acts out the tale of a child stolen by a magic creature. Morris's response to the words is both abstract and precise. The corps whirl around the father and son, like the storm, and group around the Erlking like a grove of trees. As the child, David Leventhal is intrigued and scared by the Erlking.

V isn't one of my favourite Morris works. The scampering lacks the lovely spontaneity of Morris's best work, while he's pedantic about picking out musical motifs from his Schumann score. Even here, I love the dancers' crawl. Each prowling step is springy, then sharply cut off. Morris has always chosen dancers who look like real people on stage. Here, they don't look human. That stealthy crawl turns them into insects, lizards, something alien.

Royal Ballet, to 18 November (020 7304 4000); Mark Morris, touring to 21 November (www.worldwidedanceuk.com)

Suggested Topics
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate