Thursday 8 October 2015

Raven Girl and Connectome

Alastair Marriott - Connectome - Royal Ballet, 2014 - photo Bill Cooper
Alastair Marriott - Connectome - Royal Ballet, 2014 - photo Bill Cooper
Wayne McGregor, Audrey Niffenegger, Gabriel Yared Raven Girl, Alastair Marriott, Arvo Part Connectome; Edward Watson, Sarah Lamb, Lauren Cuthbertson, Steven McRae, cond: Koen Kessels; Royal Ballet at Covent Garden
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Oct 6 2015
Design and choreography to the fore in contemporary double bill

Raven Girl was choreographer Wayne McGregor's first narrative dance piece, produced in collaboration with the writer and illustrator Audrey Niffenegger, with music by Gabriel Yared and designed by Vicki Mortimer. We caught the first performance of Royal Ballet's recent revival of the work at Covent Garden on 6 October 2015 in a double bill with Alastair Marriott's Connectome to music by Arvo Pärt designed by Es Devlin and Jonathan Howells. In Raven Girl, Edward Watson was the Postman, Olivia Cowley was the Raven, Sarah Lamb as Raven Girl, Paul Kay was the Boy and Thiago Soares was the Doctor. Connectome featured Lauren Cuthbertson, Steven McRae and Edward Watson. Koen Kessels conducted the Royal Opera House Orchestra.

Wayne MacGregor Raven Girl Sarah Lamb photo Johann Persson
Wayne MacGregor Raven GirlSarah Lamb
photo Johann Persson

Described as being based on a fairy tale by Audrey Niffenegger, Raven Girl started as a series of illustrations with text which Niffenegger and McGregor developed into a dance piece which McGregor prefer to call visual theatre rather than narrative ballet.

Composer Gabriel Yared, who is best known for his film scores (from Betty Blue to The English Patient), wrote the specially commissioned score which mixed a live orchestra with electronics to striking effect. The result was eclectic, moving from some strikingly edgy sounds where you could not tell what was live and what electronic. But Raven Girl is quite a dark tale, given quite a stark look by the designs and lighting, and it seemed that Gabriel Yared's music did not always match this. Too often he produced something softer edged, veering to the popular which had me reaching for that lazy description 'film music'.

McGregor's choreography was superb for the crowds, the weird faceless people, the ravens in their stunning costumes. And some individual solos were striking. Edward Watson as the Postman was wonderfully all edgy elbows and joints. Sarah Lamb looking stunning as the Raven Girl both with and without her wings, giving a truly mesmerising performance

But a sense of character seemed missing in places, the Doctor (Thiago Soares) and the Boy (Paul Kay) were underdeveloped despite both performers giving strong individual performances. And at the end all problems evaporated in a mysterious fashion and we had a final pas de deux for Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood as the Raven Prince (a characters who had not previously featured in the plot). Here both Wayne MacGregor and Gabriel Yared seemed to struggle to find the right language to suite the rest of the piece.
Wayne MacGregor Raven Girl - Edward Watson - photo Johann Persson
Wayne MacGregor Raven Girl - Edward Watson
photo Johann Persson
Overall there were some stunning moments and both Vicki Mortimer's designs and Ravi Deepres videos were striking, but it will be the scenes with the crows which I remember.

Raven Girl was paired with Connectome, the 2014 ballet by Alastair Marriott to music by Arvo Pärt (Fratres, Vater Unser, Silouans Song, Wenn Bach Bienen gezuchet hatte). This is a 30 minute plot-less ballet inspired by the ideas surrounding the iring of our brain cells, our 'connectome'.

Again the designs by Es Devlin (sets), Jonathan Howells (costumes), Bruno Poet (lighting) and Luke Halls (video) were strong, stunning in fact, with a sense of real identity and sets which involved the dancers being amongst them. Jonathan Howells costumes were revealing, sexy and close-fitting with more than a little suggestion that the cast were doing the show in their underwear.

But Alastair Marriott's choreography had its own powerful inner core, his varied couplings for the seven dancers (Lauren Cuthbertson, Steven McRae, Edward Watson, Luca Acri, Matthew Ball, Tomas Mock and Marcelino Sambe) were highly developed in their own right. I could see a clear lineage through Kenneth Macmillan to Frederick Ashton's plotless ballets, with a similar feel for the choreographic form.

We went to the double bill for Raven Girl, seduced by the designs, but came away with Connectome firmly fixed in our brains.

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