The Royal Ballet
Wayne McGregor's Infra
Royal Opera House, London
November 13, 2008
Reviewed by Rachel Straus
Photo by Bill Cooper. Eric
Underwood and Melissa
Hamilton in Infra.
Wayne McGregor, choreographer-in-residence for The Royal Ballet, believes that 21st-century audiences see faster, perhaps because life with LED screens is supercharging our retinas. His penchant for speed and segmentation delivered a work reminiscent of watching video with the fast forward button firmly pressed down. In his premiere for the company of Infra ("below"), 12 strong-as-steel dancers clad in ballet minimalism (shirts and underwear) sped beneath Julian Opie's above-the-stage LED set design, in which featureless pedestrians traversed a beam of horizontal light.
The overall effect was one in which technology dominated. Opie's digitized, gleaming outlines of urban workers serenely walked on air. Below, six live couples—in Lucy Carter's subterranean-plotted lighting—sharply intertwined their limbs, provoking thoughts of behind-closed-doors relationships. McGregor may have been alluding to what lies below the surface of our public lives. But because the choreography projected a calibrated coolness, and because the female dancers, in the hands of their male partners, became rotating and hyper-extending tools of wonder, the dance appeared more a hyperkinetic abstraction than a study of the psyche.
Near the end, however, the newest Royal Ballet principle, Lauren Cuthbertson, dropped in a silent sob to her knees as the cast walked unconcerned past her, mirroring Opie's virtual pedestrians above. Her emotional moment halted the choreography's frenetic meandering, which glorified the dancers' whipping, undulating, limbs. When Opie's virtual bridge finally disappeared, one couple's interactions grew warm. Is modern life, with its technology and speed, creating human desensitization? This question, at odds with McGregor's avowed love of technology, was never addressed by his syncopated, slinky choreography.
Also on the program was Glen Tetley's Voluntaries (1973) and Flemming Flindt's The Lesson (1963). Based on Eugene Ionesco's eponymous play, The Lesson featured Johan Kobborg, whose stilted walk and knife-like handling as The Teacher of The Pupil (danced by Roberta Marquez) demonstrated a psychotic rage. Through Kobborg's superb characterization of a murderer, The Lesson was mesmerizing as it was intentionally disturbing.