UniVerse, A Dark Crystal Odyssey review: Cult Eighties film gets the Wayne McGregor treatment

There are terrific sequences in this new work inspired by Jim Henson’s 1982 film, but it can occasionally seem muddled and dithering

Zoe Anderson
Monday 15 May 2023 08:11 BST
Dancers reinterpret Jim Henson’s puppet tale on the Royal Opera House stage
Dancers reinterpret Jim Henson’s puppet tale on the Royal Opera House stage (Andrej Uspenski)

Wayne McGregor’s latest work uses a 1980s fantasy movie as a jumping-off point for a whirl of digital imagery, propulsive dance, and plenty of sidetracks. UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey dithers between evoking the themes of Jim Henson’s 1982 film, and delivering an essay on their contemporary resonances. There are plenty of blind alleys, but in its best sequences, it becomes a giddy pileup of movement and image.

McGregor, resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet, returned to his own company for this work – and takes greater freedom with his source material. The title tips you off that this isn’t a straight stage adaptation of The Dark Crystal, in which the team behind The Muppet Show created a fantasy universe of warring cultures and a quest to restore a damaged world.

McGregor’s key interests are movement and concepts; he’s not particularly drawn to storytelling. This time, he and his regular dramaturg, Uzma Hameed, avoid named roles to create something that isn’t a plot but sometimes behaves like one. Dancers will wander in, doing I Am Having An Emotion face, but it’s often unclear what the feeling is, or what it’s a reaction to. Perhaps they overestimate the movie’s recognition factor: it has a cult following, but its characters and their dilemmas aren’t household names.

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