It is unusual for the Royal Ballet to devote an entire evening of work to contemporary dance, but the company’s current triple bill is a treat for audiences more used to the classical repertoire.
The Human Seasons, created in 2013 by David Dawson, is inspired by a poem by John Keats. The dancers – looking superb in revealing leotards which display their finely honed musculature – rise to the challenge of the physically exacting choreography, but there is not enough light and shade within this emotionally bland work.
More successful is After the Rain, Christopher Wheeldon’s moving piece created in 2005 for the New York City Ballet dancers Wendy Whelan and Jock Soto. Now, other dancers have had the opportunity to put their own interpretation on the work. It begins with three couples moving in unison, the women bending time and again in a deep penchee, supported by their partners. The second part of the ballet is an extended slow pas de deux, of love, loss and moving on. Danced superbly by former husband and wife team Marianela Nunez and Thiago Soares, it assumes a particular poignancy.
The final ballet of the night is Flight Pattern, a new work by the acclaimed Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite. This is the first time Pite has created a piece for the Royal Ballet, and it does not disappoint. Bravely, she has sought to interpret the humanitarian crisis which is rarely out of the headlines: the plight of refugees.
The large cast of 36, clad in drab grey coats, move as one: hunched, heads bowed, rocking slowly in their own private agony, shuddering and convulsing as they lurch toward some unknown destination. Some of the dancers have their own short solos – Kristen McNally impresses as a mother cradling a coat (was there once a baby?) and Marcelino Sambe erupts in a furious solo of rage. The stage is dark, matching the mood of the piece, and when snow falls at the close of the work, it is not the pretty snow of The Nutcracker, but the icy chill of hopelessness and an uncertain future.
Intensely moving, Flight Pattern is danced with conviction and passion, and its message is more relevant today than ever before.
The Royal Ballet’s triple bill is on at the Royal Opera House until 24 March. For further information visit roh.org.uk