In the Upper Room ★★★★★
Polarity and Proximity brings something old, something new and something truly exceptional. The programme starts with choreographer Alexander Whitley’s Kin, created four years ago for Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), where he started his professional dancing career.
It is a mesmerising piece of work. Whitley is an uncommonly talented and fiercely intelligent choreographer, who succeeds in using a purely classical dance vocabulary and giving it an entirely contemporary and fresh feel.
Kin is completely abstract and all the better for it. A choreographic response to Phil Kline’s string-reliant score where the deep and insistent notes of the cello predominate, it’s a work in four movements, celebrating the kinetics of dance.
As the curtain goes up it reveals a twilit stage where ten dancers stand silhouetted against a set that appears to be a marble wall with wide columns at regular intervals. Designs are by Jean-Marc Puissant, lighting by Peter Teigen.
The wonderful Jenna Roberts starts dancing, first sitting on the floor, her long gazelle legs unfolding in high developés; and as she does so the other dancers slowly file off stage.
The full cast join in for the following sections, where by a trick of lighting the columns at the back become tall ornate double doors and windows of the palest grey, the merest hint that we could be in a palace ballroom.
Whitley is a master of working counterpoint, his hearing finely attuned to the intimations of the music, every section imbued with mathematical precision. To say that Kin is an abstract work, however, doesn't mean it’s soul-less. The adage pas de deux for Jenna Roberts and Joseph Caley – Lead Principal with ENB, here guesting with his former company – is shot through with flowing lyricism, a seamless see-sawing of give and take between the partners, where the woman’s role is rather more forceful than in the traditional format.
Which makes what comes next so much of an unwelcome contrast.
BRB, Embrace, photo c/o of BRB
George Williamson’s Embrace had its world premiere at Sadler’s Wells on Friday night. It’s a densely narrative conceptual piece to a specially commissioned score by Sarah Kirkland Snider, about the coming out of an anguished man (Brandon Lawrence, suitably tormented). He finally finds himself through the friendship of a good woman (Delia Matthews) and the love of a good man (Max Maslen). In the process, he deals with hostile throngs of people, and has a long and befuddling engagement with three alter egos in white face masks.
There’s much going in an out of a raised panel of translucent doors at the back of the stage (designs by Madeleine Girling), and some trickery with light and shade (lighting by Peter Teigen), inspired by Japanese shadow play.
Like Whitley’s, Williamson’s language is predominantly classical; but his story-telling (pace Lou Cope's dramaturgy) is confused and confusing, a little pretentious and frankly overlong.
The night ends with an explosion of vitality in veteran American choreographer Twyla Tharp’s 1992 In the Upper Room, to a score by Philip Glass.
BRB, In the Upper Room, dancers Momoko Hirata, Miki Mizutani, photo c/o BRB
Nicknamed ‘pointe shoes and sneakers’ it’s an extraordinary blend of styles – classical ballet, jazz and Broadway – in nine sections, such as could only have come from the USA. Dancers in a variety of costumes on the theme of black and white stripes and red, don ballet pointe shoes, soft shoes or sneakers.
Whatever their footwear, all are required to produce ballet, jazz and contemporary steps in fiendishly difficult combinations, at great speed and with death-defying lifts. The work requires fierce attack, electric energy, and split second coordination, combined with a cheeky shuffling insouciance.
This is the kind of combination that comes naturally to American companies, but is a big ask for BRB, their total commitment notwithstanding. On the night only three dancers seemed able to deal with the demands of In the Upper Room: Momoko Hirata and Miki Mizutani, in recurring duos notable for their vitality and needle-sharp precision; and tall, willowy and loose-limbed Yasuo Atsuji with his devil-may-care approach to demanding jumps and steps.
A very mixed programme indeed; but definitely worth it for Alexander Whitley’s mesmerising Kin.
|What||BRB, Polarity and Proximity Review|
|Where||Sadler's Wells, Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
15 Jun 18 – 16 Jun 18, 19:30 Sat mat 14:30 Dur.: 3 hours approx two intervals
|Website||Click here to book via Sadler's Wells website|