Spool forward a few decades and Henson’s film has become the inspiration for the choreographer’s new work for his own Company Wayne McGregor, UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey.
It is not, however, a retelling of Henson’s tale, which is set on the planet Thra, where two Gelflings are on a quest to restore balance to their planet and overthrow the evil ruling Skeksis by restoring a powerful broken Crystal.
UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey, which has just had its world premiere at the ROH’s second, more intimate stage, the Linbury Theatre, is set firmly on a despoiled, ailing planet Earth.
More than a dance piece, this is a multi-faceted effort, where a long cast of creatives come together not to tell a sequential story – McGregor doesn’t care for those – but rather to create images, atmospheres, tableaux, which together highlight the man-made disasters that have been befalling Earth with increasing frequency and point, perhaps, to a redemptive future.
Wayne McGregor's UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey, Company Wayne McGregor artists. ROH London 2023, Photo: Andrej Uspenski
McGregor, working with creatives from the Jim Henson company, is credited as choreographer and director. Ravi Deepres’s film sequences, alternating between nostalgic, ferocious or symbolic, provide the framework, aided by Lucy Carter’s subtly eloquent lighting. Imaginative costumes and headpieces owing a debt to science fiction, bear the signatures of Dr Alex Box and Philip Delamore. Dramaturgy comes from McGregor’s regular collaborator Uzma Hameed, and a number of poems are read on voiceover by their author, Isaiah Hull.
The musical score, heavy on electronics, sometimes rasping, often disquieting, its crescendos, too, drawn from science fiction fare, is by Joel Cadbury. And of course, central to the whole thing are the excellent nine dancers of Company Wayne McGregor.
Danced entirely behind a scrim, UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey has memorable sequences. Against film of burning forests, dancers in bright red unitards with big flouncy satin sleeves, move like greedy unstoppable flames.
Wayne McGregor's UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey, Company Wayne McGregor, dancers Chien-Shun Liao, Jasiah Marshall. ROH, London 2023, Photo: Andrej Uspenski
Elsewhere, the image of a dead bird, its feathers covered in oil, gradually engulfed by a thick, inexorable oil slick, is unforgettable; as is that of two dancers whose costumes reflect the background image of parched, broken soil.
Wayne McGregor's UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey, Company Wayne McGregor, dancers Salvatore De Simone, Rebecca Bassett-Graham. ROH London 2023, Photo: Andrej Uspenski
McGregor’s choreography, these days softer and less reliant on acrobatic hyper-extensions, is never less than eloquent, if often speaking more to the brain than to the heart. Hameed’s dramaturgy, however, at times lacks signposting, and although the spoken poems nod to the original film, the poet’s diction is not always clear, which can be frustrating.
UniVerse: A Dark Crystal Odyssey ends on a hopeful note, everything becalmed within fresh Garden of Eden imagery, where three dancers appear to find balance and harmony. It is, undoubtedly, a worthy addition to the McGregor canon, and indeed to the performing arts’ current engagement with pressing ecological themes.
|What||Review – Universe: A Dark Crystal Odyssey, Wayne McGregor|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
13 May 23 – 04 Jun 23, 19:15 mats at 14:00 consult website. No performance Sun eve & Mon. Dur.: 70 mins no interval
|Price||£5 – £35|