The first new work of the Royal Ballet season comes in a long but musically handsome programme. Alastair Marriott's Tanglewood is framed by older ballets to Ravel, Schoenberg and Webern, and Poulenc, strongly conducted by Barry Wordsworth.
Marriott, a dancer with the company, has made successful ballets for small-scale performance. He uses dancers fluently, shows skill in groupings, and an interest in design. Those virtues are there in Tanglewood, his first work for the big Covent Garden stage. Marriott hasn't been overawed by this famously demanding space, but Tanglewood doesn't look particularly individual.
The music is Ned Rorem's Violin Concerto. The ballet opens with three women close together, arms opened wide all in the same deep lunge. This trio winds in and out of the ballet, making some of Marriott's strongest images. In fact, Marriott is strongest on opening poses. The second movement is a duet for Leanne Benjamin and Martin Harvey, starting with both bent double, feet flat, hands to floor. Once they straighten up, the steps get less distinctive. Benjamin wanders on pointe, knees slightly bent, wrists drooping. Darcey Bussell whisks through, a semi-detached second ballerina.
Marriott groups dancers well, with some choreographic echoes. A dance for Bussell and three men suggests Balanchine's Apollo - god and muses - with the genders reversed. Rorem's last movement is jazzy, and Marriott responds with some syncopation - but with not enough thrust to it.
The generalities of Tanglewood are followed by the creepy precision of My Brother, My Sisters. Kenneth MacMillan's ballet, set to Schoenberg and Webern, depicts a close-knit, incestuous family. Adult dancers play children, left alone in Yolanda Sonnabend's bleak moorland landscape. Their games spill quickly into cruelty and violence. Mara Galeazzi is blank as the bullying first sister, but the sly pinches and stabbing pointe work of MacMillan's choreography still make an impression.
I am too literal-minded for Gloria, MacMillan's lament for the First World War, danced to Poulenc's liturgical setting. Designer Andy Klunder evokes the battlefield with spare lines and clouded colours. But what are women doing on the battlefield? And why do they do so many ragtime jazz shuffles?
The evening opened with La Valse, Frederick Ashton's ballroom setting of Ravel.
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