Connectomeis what scientists call a map of the neural connections in the brain; and as the curtain rises on Alastair Marriott’s ballet of that name it slowly reveals four-hundred slim glittering poles through which the principal flies in a sequence of prodigious grand jetés. Natalia Osipova, who was to illuminate this role, will not dance the autumn season due to injury.
Alastair Marriott, choreographer and Principal Dancer of the Royal Ballet has drawn his inspiration from neuroscientist Dr. Sebastian Seung’s theories on how our personalities are determined not by genes but by our neural connections.
Not the easiest of all concepts to translate into ballet; but Marriott, an experienced choreographer with a growing portfolio of works for the Royal Ballet company and school, finds a ballet-friendly way to convey it.
The lead female (Sarah Lamb in the second cast) leads the narrative: the lone woman whose complex relationships with six male dancers shape her emotional identity. The men, led by the wonderful Stephen McRae in the first cast and the up-and-coming soloist Alexander Campbell in the second, manipulate the ballerina in seemingly impossible and often very graphic ways, with much splaying of legs and display of crotch that’s definitely not to everybody’s taste.
They represent the connective tissue of society, with Marriott saying that the piece dwells on human emotions such as “infatuation, spirituality and loss.”
Premièred in 2014, Connectome is an accomplished - if not easy - work and marks a new stage in Marriott’s attempt to develop the language of classical ballet (pointe shoes and all) to encompass modern sensibilities and body prowess.
Designer Es Devlin’s four-hundred shimmering poles and video design by Luke Halls make for dazzling visuals; and Marriott’s movement responds perfectly to Arvo Pärt’s haunting music, with its spare melodies and integral silences.
The second piece in the programme presents an interesting role reversal, for science has long been the key focus of choreographer Wayne McGregor. Most of his works for his own company Random Dance, as well as some for the Royal Ballet where he is now Resident Choreographer, have dwelt on his exploration of an aspect of physics or mathematics that has drawn his interest.
In Raven Girl, however, he made his first foray into story-telling. Based on a graphic novel by Audrey Niffenegger – award-winning author of The Time Traveller’s Wife – McGregor attempts to tell the part-fairy tale, part-science fiction story of the Raven Girl, born of man and bird, her growth and her first brush with love upon meeting the Raven Prince.
As is to be expected of McGregor productions, sets and costumes are intricate and expensive-looking. Especially inspired is the articulated pair of huge translucent wings the Raven Girl wears (but has to remove for her pas-de-deux).
It’ll be interesting to see whether McGregor has made substantial revisions to this piece. Reviews for its 2013 première were distinctly lukewarm when not downright hostile – the FT’s “turgid” comes to mind.
Critics and some punters complained of Lucy Carter and Simon Bennison’s lighting – moody, atmospheric, yes, but far too dark, with some sections of the house complaining they couldn't properly see the stage, let alone the action on it.
Gabriel Yared’s music proved equally controversial, with The Telegraph describing it as “blandly cinematic.”
Critics and audience were unanimous, though, in awarding full marks to the dancers, led in the piece’s first run by Sarah Lamb, who also takes the title role in this new outing’s first cast. The second cast, though, brings us an exciting new Raven Girl in the immensely talented young American Beatrix Stix-Brunell.
This is, in conclusion, a challenging programme that speaks of the Royal Ballet’s determination to move its work into the future, even while curating the great classics that will always be a staple of its repertoire.
|What||Royal Ballet: Connectome/Raven Girl, ROH|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
06 Oct 15 – 24 Oct 15, Sat. 10th at 1300; Sat. 24th at 1230
|Website||click here to book via the ROH website|