It may be called Chroma, but you scarcely see any colour in Wayne McGregor’s 2006 ballet. The box-like set and filmy costumes are in the most neutral tones, further leached by washes of light. Sound and movement, though, are saturated with colour. The score, by Joby Talbotand the White Stripes , is a rollercoaster ride through near-cinematic soundscapes: action-movie capers, romantic piano tinklings, gladiatorial fanfares, Hitchcockian strings. The dancing too is packed with detail: serpentine spines, weird warps, legs splaying every which way. The piece is largely strung around a tangle of duets – the standouts are Edward Watson and Melissa Hamilton’s wrigglesome opening number and an oddly constructivist encounter between Eric Underwood and Lauren Cuthbertson, their limbs steeled like girders, all offset by statuesque figures who enter from the back. Somehow, these high contrasts and shifty hues hang together to make Chroma one of McGregor’s most accessible and enjoyable works.
The Human Seasons, the Royal Ballet’s first work by David Dawson, is different on every level. Above all, it has a sense of coherence and continuity: the dancing follows the musical lines of Greg Haines‘s lyrical score; the balletic style is stretched but never broken; duets are always embedded within a wider sense of the ensemble; there is a clear arc. The curtain rises on four couples, with the women held high. Through the course of the work, each couple will come to the fore, will embody a different dynamic – breezy ease, swooping dives, skating slides – and will return to their opening position.
what might have become beauty and emotion remain closer to lyricism and sentiment.
But this is not a suite of dances simply pegged to a cycle of seasons; it is far more through-composed than that. Its principal motif is the cascading line, whether in the chains of dancers streaming around the stage, in the ripple-effects of steps being multiplied across the group, or in one of the most captivating sequences in the trailing eddies left by six men as they keep Hamilton airborne. The flux of action is punctuated by simple standstills, with the arms opening on an in breath. Yet for all its intelligence and aspiration, The Human Seasons doesn’t quite take flight: what might have become beauty and emotion remain closer to lyricism and sentiment.
Rather that than the tub-thumping crudities of Kenneth MacMillan’s 1962 The Rite of Spring. Ignoring the abundant fascination and riches in Stravinsky’s score, the choreography responds primitively to its primitivism. A mass of dancers form a faceless tribe, frog-hopping and chimp-squatting in unison, enslaved by the rhythm and making ju-ju gestures. Ballet in bongo bongo land.