Jordan Town, Linbury Studio, Royal Opera House, London, **

Nadine Meisner
Tuesday 07 January 2014 04:46
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Full marks to the Royal Opera House's will to initiate accessible events beyond the main stage; but nul points for sabotaging these good intentions. True, some flops may be down to the bad luck that is an in-built programming peril; others, though, have to be attributed to lax artistic control. You might also argue that one spectator's flop is another's unqualified hit, but the people round me at the Errollyn Wallen Company's Jordan Town were as unimpressed as I was.

Why did the ROH agree to put the show on in its Linbury Studio? Because of the bafflingly effusive press quotes from its premiere on the 2001 Edinburgh Fringe? The shock and awe of Errollyn Wallen's busy CV as composer and performer? Did anybody at the ROH actually see the show beforehand?

It is difficult to resist the thought that it was the name of Tom Sapsford, as a former member of the Royal Ballet, that clinched the deal. Which is not to deny that Sapsford is a fine artist in every way: a prolific and enterprising choreographer, an articulate and brave dancer. But I would question the wisdom of letting this show ride on that connection, given that Sapsford's contribution is secondary, and the central ingredients are Errollyn Wallen's music and lyrics.

The evening begins pleasantly enough, with Wallen's String Quartet No 4, its four movements varied, forceful and always interesting, played on stage by the youthful Ensemble X. The problem comes with the show's second half. The film effects – rushing shots of streets and urban life projected on to a back screen, close-ups of flowers, splodges of colour – are feeble and no more ground-breaking than the aversion of their creators, "the honey brothers", to capital letters. Things perk up a little when Sapsford's image appears, in Roerich distortions and ghostly silhouettes, echoing the real Sapsford as he dances, even at one point conducting a mirror duet with him. Sapsford's choreography is intelligent, picking up on Wallen's accompanying music and lyrics. Even so, solo dance needs greater originality and daring to make an impact.

So far, so tame – we've seen mixed media performance before, only of a more sophisticated, more complex, better integrated standard. The big problem comes with the stupefying banality and inescapable domination of Wallen's lyrics. "I have the answer, and the answer is in a bottle, and the bottle is on a mountain," she sings in "Guru". "The more I walk, the more I breathe," she announces in "My Feet May Take a Little While". Declaiming this as she plays her piano, she transforms the evening into an irritating ego trip. Her future projects include a short opera at the same theatre in November, for which I would recommend that she find herself a librettist.

Touring to 21 June

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