For dance insiders, Sampling the Myth is an odd programme: a bitty mix of old and new, live performance and film, with erudite voiceovers by Marina Warner that reflect on the enigmas and anxieties of the human condition. But the icing on the cake of the Deloitte Ignite festival, at the Royal Opera House, aims to get outsiders into dance and to get dance outside its box through cross-arts presentations.
The theme of this year’s festival is myth, which explains the opening duet from The Firebird: a warmup act for the sundry portrayals of flames and fowl to come. Theatrically, however, it is a damp starter. Shorn of story and scenery, and with piano accompaniment, it feels more like a technical rehearsal than an invitation into the myths and mysteries of dance.
The tension between theme and theatre is palpable throughout.
The tension between theme and theatre is palpable throughout. Of the other ballet excerpts, those that already have mythic status work best: The Dying Swan, the pas de deux from Swan Lake (shown here in Matthew Bourne’s version), overpowering class acts from Frederick Ashton’s Ondine and George Balanchine’s Apollo, and the soppier one from Wayne McGregor’s Raven Girl. More intriguing are three short-film commissions, each inspired by the story of Leda and the Swan but none needing its narrative. In Robert Binet’s exceptionally beautiful White Rush, cinematic tricks with space, speed and focus render its four dancers as celestial beings, unbound by mortal flesh. Charlotte Edmonds’s The Indifferent Beak surges with turbulence, a woman in white and her dark love caught between open fields and enclosed interiors, while Kim Brandstrup’s finely filmed Leda and the Swan pictures its story in two mirrored scenes, one violent, one tender.
That leaves two real surprises, both new commissions. Miguel Altunaga’s Dark Eye trio works every cliche in the book – hooded witches with clawed hands, smoke, crashes, flashes – and comes out the star of the evening, as hammy as hell and loving it. There are strong ideas behind Aakash Odedra’s closing Unearthed, but the result is surprisingly weak. Chris Ofili’s hand-painted costumes give the dancers both the ghostly look of effigies and the feel of being made of soil. Based on the Prometheus story, the dance begins well, with white-striped Prometheus moulding Man from clay, accompanied by five figures of fire; and it ends well, with Man and his flames indifferently abandoning Prometheus to the Eagle’s gold talon. But the rest is mostly filler, generic groupings and motiveless moves burying its occasional sparks of inspiration.