I wonder if Nigel Farage knows his name is bellowed out across the auditorium as part of the score of Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter’s Untouchable? This is one of the quirkier moments of the piece, which returns to the Covent Garden stage for the first time since its premiere two years ago.
The classically trained Royal Ballet dancers respond to Shechter’s contemporary choreography — where gravity is constantly embraced rather than defied — with vigour. It was, according to Shechter, a challenge to get them to set aside their ingrained classical stance and embrace a more fluid style. But embrace it they do, the surging mass of bodies providing an interesting take on the theme of alienation and group identity.
Untouchable is part of a triple bill which begins with Twyla Tharp’s The Illustrated Farewell, an extended version of her 1973 ballet As Time Goes By. The costumes are drab, but the choreography certainly isn’t, with perilously sliding steps, speedy footwork and some thrilling lifts. Sarah Lamb and Steven McRae make the tricky pas de deux look deceptively easy.
The third ballet, The Wind, is by Arthur Pita and is based on Dorothy Scarborough’s classic novel. It tells the story of how a woman who moves to Texas is slowly driven mad by the incessant wind — provided in this instance, by three giant wind machines on stage. Natalia Osipova looks suitably deranged, the men look cool in their Stetsons and boots and Edward Watson has a rather creepy role as a ghost Comanche warrior. I enjoyed it, even if the auditorium became a bit draughty.
Over at Sadler’s Wells, the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s short season included David Bintley’s Aladdin — not the Disney version many of us are familiar with, but a sumptuous spectacle ideal for all the family. Bintley has given us a whole new world of his own, complete with flying carpet, a levitating genie and a divertissement of dancing jewels. Praise must go to Sue Blane, for her cleverly faceted tutu designs. (Is there a more ingenious costume designer around? I remember with affection her liquorice allsort tutus for the English National Ballet’s Nutcracker 20 years ago.)
At the performance I saw, Max Maslen showed fine elevation as the Genie and Nao Sakuma danced a spectacular Rubies pas de deux with Tyrone Singleton. Marion Tait, now a character dancer after years in ballerina roles, stole the show with a wonderfully judged comic turn as Aladdin’s mother.
Don’t despair if you missed the dancers this time around. The company’s Nutcracker begins in Birmingham in a couple of weeks, and will be performed in London next month.
The Royal Ballet in The Illustrated Farewell / The Wind / Untouchable is at the Royal Opera House until November 17