Sarah Lamb as Raven Girl in Raven Girl © ROH / Johan Persson 2013
A brand new work by Royal Ballet Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor is always something to look forward to, and I booked for Raven Girl at the Royal Opera House well before there was much information about what it would be like. It turned out to be a modern fairytale, the result of a collaboration between McGregor and Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveller’s Wife, with music specially composed by Gabriel Yared. With all that talent combined, why did I find it disappointing?
The main issue is the general gloominess, both in the story and on stage where the dancers battle manfully against an almost jet-black set, sporadically lit. With dancers of the calibre of Ed Watson and Sarah Lamb you want to be able to see every detail of their movement; having them appear fitfully in the spotlight is such a waste. The second issue, sadly, is that the choreography is just not interesting enough. Yes, there are some beautiful moments for Sarah Lamb when she acquires her wings – and some scary ones when she constructs a tower from chairs and climbs up it – and the detail of Watson’s portrayal of the Postman and his love for the Raven (Olivia Cowley, affecting despite the handicap of a black mask) is a joy. But the dance of the ravens is too simplistic – we want to see them soar, not trot, and the pas de deux for Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood (riveting as always – such an undervalued dancer!) while bringing a welcome touch of excitement, is very much business as usual for a McGregor ballet.
It was such a relief to come back after the interval to Symphony in C and see how an old master like Balanchine does it. Bright lights, plain blue backcloth, dancers in white tutus and all the emphasis on the dancing. And what dancing! The inimitable elegance of Marianela Nunez, impeccably partnered by Thiago Soares; Stephen McRae and Yuhui Choe fizzing with energy and humour. A supporting lineup that demonstrated what a wealth of talent the Royal has waiting just below the top rank. But above all, choreography of wit and charm, subtly becoming more challenging both for dancers to perform and audience to follow, performed with a sense of fun by dancers at the top of their game. The audience went wild – and rightly.