There is an interesting backstory to Rushes, the first major work by Danish choreographer Kim Brandstrup for the Royal Ballet. The music comes from an uncompleted score by Prokofiev for a film that was never made; its literary inspiration is Dostoevsky’s preliminary notes for his novel The Idiot. Aptly for such unfinished sources, Brandstrup’s idea was to make a ballet of fragmentary scenes.
The set is marvellous, a beaded curtain that functions both as a cinema screen and as a permeable boundary through which the characters slip, as if between different worlds. Carlos Acosta, in workaday clothes, is captivated by visions of crimson siren Laura Morera, and oblivious to the timid attentions of drab, grey-skirted Alina Cojocaru. A monochrome chorus, like the crowd in a black and white film, frames the action.
Brandstrup’s twisting, restless choreography works well on the corps, but is best in the partnerwork, particularly in the detail given to the women – fingers flick in annoyance, shoulders square up defensively or slouch in resignation. Even within duets, there is a constant sense of disconnection between the characters. Buried in the subtext – and backstory – are suggestive themes about the images we project onto others, about fantasy and desire. But dance is not Dostoevsky, and the unpleasant “front-story” boils down to this: man pursues wilful, sexy woman. They tussle. He rapes her, then feels very bad about it. So does she, and leaves. Timid, unsexy woman sees her chance. She comforts him. He settles for that. So does she. I really couldn’t.
Happily, the new ballet is bookended by very contrasting old ones. Balanchine’s sublime Serenade – exquisitely danced, especially by Marianela Nuñez – may not be explicitly about anything, but it is saturated with mysterious, unnameable feelings, and will leave you wide-eyed and shivering. Homage to the Queen is a showpiece finale, much better than its pomp-and-frills framing suggests.