The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, London


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The Independent Culture

Liam Scarlett is the Royal Ballet’s next big thing. The young choreographer has just been appointed the company’s artist in residence, giving up dancing to focus on making ballets.

He’s started to create works outside his home company; this triple bill opens with Viscera, which he made for Miami City Ballet earlier this year.

It’s a sleek, plotless work to Lowell Lieberman’s energetic first piano concerto. Dancers in plum-coloured leotards pour across the stage, breaking into solos and group dances.

As a soloist spins, she’s suddenly joined by a second, so that they slide into unison mid-step. Scarlett uses classical vocabulary, with a distinctive response to the music, bringing out the rhythms with an unexpected dip or squirm.

Viscera is well-crafted but not always individual. The central movement is a long duet, all melancholy piano lines and intricate lifts. It’s oddly anonymous. Marianela Nuñez climbs all over Ryoichi Hirano, kneeling on his shoulders or diving into an upside-down pose, but Scarlett gives them little sense of mood or purpose.  Complicated duets are in fashion, so Scarlett dutifully ties his dancers in knots; he doesn’t show us why.

The last movement is stronger, with a triumphant Laura Morera sailing against the tide of the corps de ballet. Robert Clark was a vivid piano soloist, conducted by Barry Wordsworth.

This triple bill showcases the Royal Ballet’s three main house choreographers – Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon and now Scarlett all have formal titles within the company. McGregor’s 2008 ballet Infra shows people moving in crowds, or against them. A pas de deux is echoed and multiplied, becoming a picture of humanity going about its business. In a clumsy moment, Sarah Lamb screams silently as crowds push past her. Overhead, artist Julian Opie’s design shows digital people walking.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Fool’s Paradise is an odd choice for acquisition: he's made better ballets. Created for Morphoses, Wheeldon’s own company, in 2007, it’s a self-consciously haunting work. Wheeldon creates big, vague gestures for his cast of nine dancers, who pose in gold tights under spotlights and falling petals. Joby Talbot’s score hums through washes of sound.

There are complicated duets here, too, trying hard to be expressive without having much to express. Sarah Lamb, Federico Bonelli, Melissa Hamilton, Edward Watson, Yuhui Choe and Steven McRae are fluent and strong, but the ballet is fussy.

Until 14 November. Box office 020 7304 4000.