The Royal Opera House has dipped a toe into the waters of live performance – albeit socially distanced and to an empty auditorium – with Live from Covent Garden, the first of a series of mixed music and dance performances, conducted by its music director, Antonio Pappano.
The musical component of Live from Covent Garden is reviewed separately; here we're concentrating on the short dance interlude, especially created by the Royal Ballet's resident choreographer, Wayne McGregor.
This should have been special year for McGregor at Covent Garden; his new full evening work, The Dante Project, was supposed to be the highlight of the Royal Ballet season. The lockdown led to a postponement, and instead McGregor was asked to contribute a short piece for this programme.
As he explained in a brief interview with presenter Anita Rani, the current restrictions on physical contact severely limited his work. He is a hands on choreographer, who likes to handle and manipulate bodies like so much putty; standing in a corner of the studio at a safe distance from his dancers didn't come naturally at all.
Still, every cloud has a silver lining: and the fact that two outstanding dancers – principal Francesca Hayward and First Soloist César Corrales – are a couple meant that there were no distancing restrictions on their partnership.
McGregor chose a deliberately optimistic piece: Richard Strauss's lied 'Morgen!' ('Tomorrow'), composed in 1894 as a gift for his wife Pauline. It's the setting for a poem by John Henry McKay that starts: 'And tomorrow the sun will shine again', eloquently recited by Francesca Hayward as a sort of prologue to the actual dance piece.
As the first notes of violin and piano rise with a far away, wistful sound, we see Francesca Hayward standing motionless centre stage in a striking burnt orange shift. César Corrales enters, his intense physicality accentuated by powerful contractions of his bare chest and slowly windmilling arms. His eyes are downcast, his steps slow but determined, reminiscent of previous choreographies depicting a forest faun.
When man and woman meet, soprano Louise Alder starts singing, and the duet builds on the contrast between the man's animal strength and the woman's fluid elasticity. Francesca Hayward's unhurried developé holds a promise, but not yet a surrender; with each gesture they weigh each other and, as they do, their differences start fading; his movements mellow, hers become more assertive.
Eventually yin and yang fuse and create a unique moment of connection.
It's not the most original duet you're ever going to see, but it's gentle and moving and beautifully danced.
And after it ended, with no prior warning, all the artists taking part in this performance faced the camera in absolute silence and took a knee, the highly symbolic gesture of support for Black Lives Matter. It was an immensely powerful moment.
You can find details of the separate Royal Opera House programme streaming recordings of opera and ballet, #OurHouseToYourHouse
|What||Wayne McGregor, Morgen!, Live from Covent Garden Review|
|Where||Online | MAP|
13 Jun 20 – 27 Jun 20, Streamed live 19:30 Available on demand afterwards