Royal Ballet Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, London
Anna Karenina, Coliseum, London

With rock nobility on stage and no one in the pit, a ticket for the Royal Ballet feels more like a pass to Ministry of Sound

They came in all their finery: glam-rockers in nose-rings and dog-chains, the Kensington set in full-fig Chanel. The last time the Royal Ballet attracted such a mixed crowd was in 2006, when ballet last met pop and fashion head-on. Once again the kingpin is choreographer Wayne McGregor, but now he has even more clout, summoning Gareth Pugh as designer, Mark Ronson as guitarist-composer, singer Alison Mosshart of The Kills, rappers Black Cobain and Wale, and – goodness, could that really be? – Boy George. Rufus Wainwright is credited with orchestration, though the ROH Orchestra mysteriously stayed at home. With so much else going on, no one seemed to notice.

Within this fug of creative egos, 18 dancers of preternatural elasticity muscled a way through. The title, Carbon Life, nods to personal responsibility, but McGregor treats his cast as an assemblage of jutting limbs. "Carbon Copy" might be nearer the mark, as black-knicker-clad clones march, slide, dislocate and generally spatchcock themselves in ways well rehearsed in earlier McGregor ballets. As always, certain dancers are pushed into prominence: big Ed Watson, tiny Sarah Lamb, recklessly hyperflexed Melissa Hamilton. Yet even they can't stop your gaze migrating to the musical comings and goings upstage. Potentially great moments in frozen silhouette are ruined by musicians standing in the way.

Pugh's design distracts further with a wall of vertical rods that morph into a grid that busily rises and falls. His costumes are a cabaret in themselves, from nude suits and man-tutus to Ku Klux Klan hoods, over-the-knee spats and niqab-like bodices that hide the women's chins. Viewed as a rock gig with high-end production values, Carbon Life is deservedly a hot ticket. As a chapter in the ongoing story of the Royal Ballet and its house choreographer, it's not encouraging.

Less worrying are the flaws that beset Sweet Violets, the other new work on the bill. This is young Liam Scarlett's first bite at narrative, and he's simply bitten off too much.

Braiding rumour with fact concerning Jack the Ripper and Walter Sickert, a painter with a distinctly sordid turn of mind, his plot has too many characters, too many scenes, and asks too much of an audience's comprehension. A prostitute, bundled off by heavies in an early scene, is unrecognisable half an hour later when she reappears bald and mad. Another, murdered in the first five minutes, returns as a ghost. The hollow-eyed ghoul who partners girls on the local music-hall stage turns out to be a projection of Sickert's sick imagination. Yet the old-school mimed naturalism fails to flag up these supernatural possibilities. Scarlett could have been bolder, and briefer, too. His handling of his dance ideas, on the other hand, is superbly assured, as, one must assume, is his handling of his top-rung cast who are literally prepared to scamper up the wallpaper for him (Alina Cojocaru, as Sickert's mistress) or undress (Tamara Rojo – though I really don't think ticket-holders needed the indecency warning).

John MacFarlane's dingy sets cleverly suggest the Camden Town paintings. The music, excessive and ominous by turns, is Rachmaninov's, rendered by piano trio to economical effect.

It's said that dance is an international language. Wordless it may be, but taste does not always cross national boundaries, and the narrative ballets of Boris Eifman are a case in point. A veteran of 30 years dance-making in St Petersburg, he tackles epic stories for vast stages in a style a Russian might approvingly call bolshoi – big – and we might call OTT.

Anna Karenina, opening a brief season of Eifman's work at the Coliseum, might skimp on half the plot (no Levin, no Kitty), but goes to the max on passionate angst, giving wayward Anna wings of fire in antics that would send a seasoned circus gymnast scurrying to check their personal injury cover. Maria Abashova, in the cast I saw, is a gorgeous Amazonian with a technique that should have had the house on its feet. But overstatement of the case (whether love, misery, or husband-loathing) curiously dis-empowered her. The most telling image in Eifman's ballet was the black-clad chorus embodying steam trains on a busy stretch of track.


Royal Ballet (020-7304 4000) to 23 Apr

Dance choice

In the 65th anniversary year of Tennes-see Williams's play, Scottish Ballet presents a fresh take on A Streetcar Named Desire, a collaboration between theatre and film director Nancy Meckler and choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, with a new, jazz-inflected score by Peter Salem. At Glasgow's Theatre Royal (Wed to Sat), then touring.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

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

Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Arts and Entertainment
'Girl with a Pearl Earring' by Johannes Vermeer, c. 1665
artWhat is it about the period that so enthrals novelists?
Arts and Entertainment
Into the woods: The Merry Wives of Windsor at Petersfield
theatreOpen-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Arts and Entertainment
James singer Tim Booth
latitude 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Lee says: 'I never, ever set out to offend, but it can be an accidental by-product'
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe judges were wowed by the actress' individual cooking style
Arts and Entertainment
Nicholas says that he still feels lucky to be able to do what he loves, but that there is much about being in a band he hates
musicThere is much about being in a band that he hates, but his debut album is suffused with regret
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
    Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

    Take a good look while you can

    How climate change could wipe out this seal
    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

    Farewell, my lovely

    Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
    Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

    Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

    Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

    Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

    John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

    A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
    Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

    Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

    The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
    The 10 best pedicure products

    Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

    Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

    Commonwealth Games 2014

    Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
    Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

    Jack Pitt-Brooke

    Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
    How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

    Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game