In calling his piece The Misty Frontier, Javier de Frutos was perhaps referring to the disappearing barrier between dance forms that his debut at the Linbury Studio represented. If the six participating Royal Ballet dancers symbolised in-house classical discipline, he was the breath of creative fresh air from outside. Maybe, too, he was thinking of the playwright Tennessee Williams (an ongoing Frutos obsession) and his incursion into ballet, when in 1945 he met George Balanchine during a holiday in Mexico.
De Frutos announced this meeting as the inspiration for The Misty Frontier, and I've kicked myself for not pouncing on Frutos next day in Harvey Nichols and asking him for more background. The lighting and costumes apparently referred back to the production styles of Williams and Balanchine, but beyond that, the piece (like much of Frutos's work) had, in its making, evolved so far from its starting point that any remaining threads were too oblique to be decipherable.
Perhaps Frutos's own mildly disruptive stage entrances, like a wild card among the Royal Ballet cast, could be read as echoes of Balanchine the controlling choreographer, or Williams the intruder. Perhaps the accompaniment of an old "How to be a ventriloquist" record (only intermittently relieved by passages of Bach) had a particular significance. I wouldn't know.
Best to view the piece on its own merits. For the Royal Ballet dancers, Frutos drew on classical shapes and their various performing combinations. Marianela Nuñez and Martin Harvey, for example, executed the first of several pas de deux, lingering over the choreography's sensuous lines. They finished with a kiss, followed by Frutos's arrival and his disapproving look. It was that kind of surprise twist that gave the dances an individual imprint. Similarly, a male pas de deux found Frutos giving an unusual helping hand in the lifts, while a man's solo of attitude turns had Frutos ducking to avoid the lifted leg.
Frutos's appearances lengthened as the piece progressed, eventually culminating in a spotlit solo, his feet rooted, as he snaked his torso to a ventriloquist's recited alphabet. Earlier, Nuñez had whipped off fouettés to the same alphabet, but this time Frutos's movements appeared like illustrations of each letter – interesting, if you didn't mind listening to a whole record about ventriloquism.
By then, though, the gruesomely cheery voices had bored me to death, and Michael Daugherty's jazzy "Niagara Falls", which concluded the piece, was too long coming. That music drove Frutos to his most accomplished writing yet – group patterns that plaited and fragmented, and stood silhouetted on the darkened stage. It was a ravishing, tantalising glimpse of a different Frutos, able to handle form and space with the bold, rhythmic fluency of a painter. But no sooner was it there, than it was over.
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