Five years ago, I took a good friend to see his first ever dance show. It was ironINC's 2007 Resolution! performance at The Place; the opening piece of the night consisted of a woman jumping up and down, then running around the stage. He was baffled, concerned that he'd somehow missed some subtext, synopsis or key information.
This is much how I felt on watching Wayne McGregor's Limen today. Sadly, the experience was hampered by little to none of Limen actually being visible in the cheap side seats, and instead resulted in a lengthy, largely uninterrupted meditation on the empty stage of the Royal Opera House.
Perhaps because to the east of us, the Merce Cunningham Dance Company was staging its last ever performance in London, Limen appeared to be Cunninghamesque in its creation: the choreography was even more abstract than usual, with seemingly random duets and solos occuring in the space, however at times, similar movements would be performed by a nearby pair, but differently. Also Cunninghamesque was the placing of the movement along the sides and at the back, hence the lack of visibility for us lesser mortals sitting on the side.
The highlight of Limen was of course the duet between Eric Underwood and Sarah Lamb, which proved that when you strip away all the affectations from McGregor's choreograhy, you can find moments of beauty.
The second piece in today's triple bill was Marguerite & Armand, which was choreographed by Ashton in 1963 as a vehicle for Margot Fonteyn's and Rudolf Nureyev's new partnership; he later decreed that it should never be performed by anyone else, but it was revived in 2000 for Nureyev's protegée Sylvie Guillem and Nicolas Le Riche, and more recently by Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli. The original version, narrated by Margot Fonteyn, was recently screened by BBC4 as part of a weekend of dance programming.
Marguerite & Armand is based on Dumas' play "La Dame aux camélias" about a courtesan who Dumas fell in love with before her death from consumption at age 23.
The piece opened with Marguerite on her deathbed, hallucinating the presence of Armand before reminiscing about their relationship from when they first met, the development of their relationship despite his father banning her from seeing him, concluding with Armand's fury at discovering that she had returned to being a courtesan. In the present day, or at least in 1852, we saw Armand return to the dying Marguerite for one last ecstatic duet.
Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin were perfectly cast in their roles, wholly inhabiting their characters in a way which we had not seen in the previous Guillem/Le Riche casting. We could easily see Tamara Rojo as a younger Fonteyn, with the same warmth and vivacity we would expect from her, while it was all too easy to imagine Sergei channelling Nureyev, performing with similar bearing, passion and fire.
While this is hardly Ashton's finest choreography, it's filled with dramatic passionate duets, and is a must for Sergei Polunin fans!
The evening concluded with Macmillan's Requiem, a tribute to choreographer and friend John Cranko on his sudden death in 1973; in the closing triple bill of the Royal Ballet's previous season, we saw Glen Tetley's own tribute to Cranko, Voluntaries, which was exquisitely performed by Marianela Nuñez.
Requiem was performed to Fauré's Requiem, accompanied by a choir which was beautifully led by Anna Devin (soprano) and Daniel Grice (baritone). The piece was imbued with a solemn funereal feel, with ritualised movement, slow deliberate duets and many friezes throughout. There was also raw unballetic movement, evocative of the animalistic Rite of Spring, also choreographed by Macmillan.
The three main roles were the Everyman (Carlos Acosta), the chief female mourner (Marianela Nuñez) and the Goddess/white-clad woman (Leanne Benjamin), with Leanne beautifully partnered by Rupert Pennefather. Each were stunning to watch, from Carlos Acosta's tortured, anguish-filled solo to the effortlessly fluid duet between Pennefather and Leanne. And as for Nuñez - well, she completely stole the show!
Definitely worth going just for Requiem, and Marguerite & Armand, but Limen was very disappointing. And as for the men's wigs in Marguerite & Armand..... !