With the redeveloped Linbury Theatre offering a wealth of new possibilities, Emma Southworth, Creative Producer for The Royal Ballet, decided to open the platform to foreign companies; and ensembles from the US and Canada, as well from across continental Europe, gladly took the chance to be part of International Draft Works, alongside The Royal Ballet.
The first thing to point out is that all 10 works presented were highly accomplished. Some were genuinely innovative, others adhered to more conventional tropes, but all were interesting in their own way.
The most daring and challenging piece – also perhaps the most difficult to love – came from the American choreographer Drew Jacoby for her current company, Belgium’s Opera Ballet Vlaanderen. Entitled Jack, it was danced by four male characters to a collage of sound that ranged from scratchy recordings of human voice to Gerswhin’s Three Preludes for Piano.
Dressed in clinging black pants, with chest defining tops in lime green and orange, glitter smeared on their heads, one moment the men were camping it up as if in a hard core gay dive; the next they were producing immaculate ballet jumps. The aim, we were told in a programme note, was to juxtapose ‘classical ballet aesthetics with themes of pop, urban culture and gender non-conformity.’
For all its shock value, Jack was a highly intelligent, tightly structured piece, one that really did shine a new light on contemporary culture and dance’s place in it.
At the opposite end of the spectrum were works by Gemma Bond for American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company and Kit Holder for Birmingham Royal Ballet.
Gemma Bond’s Interchangeable Text, on a string quartet by Philip Glass, was pure American abstract dance, relying on fierce attack, spirited jetés and lifts, rapid changes of direction and multiple turns, all within the established ballet language, including pointe for the women. It was a pleasant enough whirlwind of lean bodies in orange, well served by 12 young hopefuls from ABT’s junior company, but not exactly new.
Kit Holder’s Stem, performed on Oliver Davis’ Liberty Suite, was also an abstract work built from the classical vocabulary and danced by two couples in black. The intricate choreography showed their elegant and expressive lines, as they dealt with a series of themes, or stems, that developed differently every time they recurred.
Easiest to love, for this reporter at least, were Milena Sidorova’s two short pieces for Dutch National Ballet. AI, which closed the programme, was a riff on Artificial Intelligence, danced with verve and humour by Aya Okumura in a white leotard and metallic blouson. It was a fast moving work, where robotic gestures regularly broke the dazzling flow of movement.
Earlier Sidorova had presented Sand, a rapturous, playful pas de deux of young love, performed by the partnership (surely made in heaven!) of Khayla Fitzpatrick and Giovanni Princic.
For the Royal Ballet Hannah Grennell created Zohar, on the eponymous track by Rachel Groen, a dark (and darkly lit) work for four dancers that showed the influence of Hofesh Shechter; in contrast Joshua Junker presented the contagious Canto de Ossanha, inspired by the music of the famed Brazilian guitarist and composer Baden Powell. It was a colourful, engaging work for six dancers, who responded to the music and danced… just because.
Plaudits, too, to Hamburg Ballet (choreographer Aleix Martinez), The National Ballet of Canada (Brendan Saye) and Norwegian National Ballet (Samantha Lynch and Douwe Dekkers), whose works were well worth seeing (but fell foul of the word count here…)
The inaugural International Draft Works provided a stimulating evening; we can only hope it'll become a regular event in years to come.
|What||International Draft Works, Linbury Theatre Review|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
11 Apr 19 – 12 Apr 19, 19:45 Dur: 2 hours 15 mins inc one interval
|Website||Click here to book via the ROH|