The Most Incredible Thing, Sadler's Wells, London
Thursday 24 March 2011
Sometimes things just don't work. Pet Shop Boys have launched themselves into ballet, starting at the deep end with a three-act narrative work. It's an ambitious, sometimes clever project, fatally undermined by waffling choreography.
For The Most Incredible Thing, Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have brought in choreographer Javier De Frutos, designer Katrina Lindsay and animator Tal Rosner to rework a Hans Christian Andersen story.
It tells the story of a fairytale competition. Whoever produces "the most incredible thing" will win half the kingdom and the princess's hand in marriage. The hero Leo, danced by Aaron Sillis, creates an extraordinary clock, which opens up to reveal dancing figures. Then the villainous Karl, danced by Ivan Putrov, smashes the clock. This is an even more incredible thing: he wins the competition. The clock's magical figures come to life and take revenge.
The Pet Shop Boys' score is carefully theatrical, with space for narrative and dance scenes. There's a live orchestra and even a snatch of a conventional pop song; there are confident fanfares for Leo's triumph, some lyrical and buoyant themes. But the score doesn't have the irresistible sheen of the Boys' best pop.
De Frutos's choreography is shockingly weak. Having conjured three muses out of the clock, he keeps giving them clumsy quotations from the muses in Balanchine's Apollo. Chunks of the princess's wedding come from Nijinska's Les Noces. These aren't so much references as wholesale lifts, awkwardly repeated.
The competition becomes an X Factor spoof, with a patronising presenter and a panel of judges, but even this easy target needs more precision. The magical clock takes up most of the second act: De Frutos lugs on everything from pianists to astronauts, without giving them any good steps.
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