Wayne McGregor premiere, Royal Opera House, London

A wondrous world of stick people and twisty torsos

Infra, Wayne McGregor's world premiere for the Royal Ballet, is full of changes. You can see McGregor trying things that are new for him, new for his dancers. It makes for a less finished work than his recent Chroma, with some rough edges and weaker patches. But there are always ideas here, and they're always going somewhere.

McGregor's first large-scale work as the Royal Ballet's resident choreographer is a collaboration with the artist Julian Opie; this first night was filmed for BBC2. Opie's set designs include a video wall: a wide strip of screen hanging over the dancers' heads.

Film installations are now common in dance. Infra is unusually good at integrating screen and live action (though a technical hitch did delay the start of this first performance). The screen shows electronic figures walking. They're stick people, with distinctive round Opie heads, but their body language is believably natural and easy. One swings a briefcase; another teeters in high heels. Those electronic passers-by root this dance in a stylised but everyday world.

Below them, dancers break into characteristic McGregor moves, thrusting out hips or limbs, torsos juicily articulate. In his recent dances, McGregor's steps have been just as twisty but much less brutal. Instead of sending dancers walloping through the moves, he gives them more room to breathe, shaping his steps into phrases. The dancing is still fast, with the same jutting exaggerations, but it's much more legible. He is showing off his dancers' style as well as their strength and flexibility.

Max Richter's music mixes murmuring electronica with string quartet writing, scratching or mournful sweeps of sound. McGregor responds with newly emotional dances. This isn't a story ballet, but it has dramatic elements that I had never seen from this choreographer. There are even literal dramatic gestures, a kiss or a cry.

In one of Infra's best scenes, couples line up in boxes of light. They're all dancing different duets, but patterns start to emerge, variations or echoes of the same steps. Relationships emerge, too. As she bounces up on pointe, Leanne Benjamin's fierce little nod suggests a quarrel with her partner, Edward Watson. Women snap into poses, giving their footwork a conversational rhythm. More couples arrive, until the stage is teeming with duets. It's a lovely image of life going on, all the individual stories within a crowd.

Infra is an episodic work, following Richter's music in solos, group dances, dramatic and pure dance moments. Sometimes the pace sags, or McGregor changes gears too obviously. Lucy Carter's light design helps to define episodes and numbers, framing the dances in squares and shafts of light. It is atmospheric, though her softest lighting blurs the dancers' expressions. Moritz Junge's costume designs are simple, putting the dancers in plain tops and trunks.

During Lauren Cuthbertson's solo, people in street clothes start to cross the stage, like Opie's digital crowd made flesh. As they stroll by, she sinks to the floor, crying. It doesn't quite work: her silent howls are too big, the pacing slightly off. It's still a bold moment, however, and a fascinating change of tone from McGregor.

His dancers look delighted by the challenge. Eric Underwood stands out in a swaggering solo, his torso swaying with brilliant assurance. There are strong, alert performances from Benjamin, Cuthbertson and Watson, all McGregor regulars. The young Melissa Hamilton, still in the corps de ballet, is lucid and pugnacious.

This triple bill opens with Glen Tetley's Voluntaries and Flemming Flindt's The Lesson. Johan Kobborg is brilliantly creepy in the cartoon violence of The Lesson, twitching with repression and madness. Roberta Marquez makes his doomed pupil first sugary, then desolate. Laura Morera gives the pianist's gestures a kind of pedantic fury.

Voluntaries, Tetley's ballet of dancers surging about in patterned body tights, needed more focus and punch. The men come off best. Rupert Pennefather partners strongly, while Sergei Polunin dances with bright confidence.

To 26 November (020-7304 4000). 'Infra' will be on BBC2 on 22 November

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’

North London meets The Exorcist in eerie suburban drama

TV

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before