Wayne McGregor, Royal Opera House, London, review: Lauren Cuthbertson was mercurially quick

The Royal Ballet celebrates Wayne McGregor’s 10th anniversary as resident choreographer with an all-McGregor programme, including two popular works and a world premiere.


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The Independent Culture

It’s 10 years since Wayne McGregor became resident choreographer with The Royal Ballet.

This programme celebrates with the 2006 hit Chroma – the work that got him the gig – the premiere of Multiverse, to a new score by Steve Reich, and, more defiantly, a revival of messy pop ballet Carbon Life.

Taken together, they’re a good show of McGregor’s strengths – his ability to inspire the dancers, who perform all three works with huge commitment, and his readiness to collaborate with leading figures from other fields. The new Multiverse displays both McGregor’s ambition and the way he doesn’t always connect with his themes.

It opens with a punishing duet for Steven McRae and Paul Kay, moving to the looped voice of an apocalyptic preacher from Reich’s 1965 work It’s Gonna Rain. They dance tirelessly, with speedy footwork and bounding jumps, moving in and out of unison. Their precision and stamina is astonishing – but it’s also clear that no human body can outlast the recorded loops of the score, that this is a battle they must eventually lose.

In the second sequence, artist Rashid Rana’s set shows a splintered grid of present-day migrants and old master paintings, a history of fear. The cast of 14 run in, reeling and panicky, sprinting through frantic steps. There’s a clear comment on world events, but it feels one-note.

The last sequence is danced to Runner, commissioned for this score. It’s an orchestral work, a chiming, luminous soundworld, optimistic and calm. The dancing is newly serene. The whole cast perform it beautifully, but neither the anguish nor the calm develop much. Multiverse is skilled, sophisticated and working very hard for meaning.

For Chroma, the Royal Ballet cast was joined by dancers from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, in a joyful meeting of styles. The guests bring a particular warmth and lusciousness, while the home team show brilliant speed and attack. I loved Ailey’s Jacqueline Green in a slow, thoughtful solo. Lauren Cuthbertson was mercurially quick, a fine contrast with the grand scale of her Ailey partner Jamar Roberts.

Carbon Life brought together pop luminaries from producer Mark Ronson to fashion designer Gareth Pugh, with rambling and sometimes navel-gazing results. It opens with dancers as blurs of golden light, gorgeous behind a semi-opaque drop curtain. As the ballet goes on, they have to contend with Pugh’s over-elaborate costumes and repetitive steps. It was stylishly danced, with Oliva Cowley and Francesca Hayward standing out.