Liam Scarlett, a dancer with the Royal Ballet, is 24 and already tipped as a choreographic hope for the future. Asphodel Meadows is his first work for the main stage, a confident debut in a traditional vein. Danced to Poulenc's concerto for two pianos, it's a plotless ballet with a big cast and fluently academic steps. Scarlett handles soloists and corps de ballet with some distinctive touches.
In the first movement, the corps exit in pairs, each man with an arm outstretched across his partner's body, so that she backs away as he steps forward. Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather appear in almost the same pose – but she grips his arm, stepping forward in spite of the barrier. Scarlett sets up a parallel, then breaks it and moves on.
Tamara Rojo and Bennet Gartside prowl through the second movement. Rojo takes up a pose like a bird of prey, arms outstretched, head dipped, gazing fiercely upwards. The last movement brings on Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera. They skitter through their steps so fast that they send themselves off-balance.
Christopher Wheeldon's Electric Counterpoint sets four soloists against film clips of themselves, with Bach, Steve Reich and the dancers' own voices for accompaniment. The multi-media ballet is less new than Wheeldon seems to believe: he gives us star dancers reacting to their images, but doesn't take the idea much further.
Mats Ek's Carmen is cartoon Bizet, with a limited vocabulary of big skips and deep pliés, comedy cigars, shouting and tin-foil Spanish dresses. Rodion Shchedrin's musical arrangement is full of bangs and clatters, sly jokes and unexpected percussion. Rojo swaggers her way through as Carmen, red ruffles flying. Thomas Whitehead dances José with taut intensity, while Bennet Gartside struts triumphantly as bullfighter Escamillo.
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