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REVIEW| Viscera, Infra & Fool’s Paradise at the Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House | Karen Fraser
The Royal Opera House has launched an initiative called Student Standby and, on Thursday 8th November 2012, we were able to take advantage of the generously subsidised tickets that invite newer audiences to enjoy both opera and ballet. On this particular occasion, the triple bill comprised Viscera, choreographed by Liam Scarlett, Infra by Wayne McGregor and Fool’s Paradise by Christopher Wheeldon.
Treated to a veritable triumvirate of British choreographic talent, for my companion and me, the standout performance of the night was without a doubt Infra. Winner of the Critics’ Circle Awards, as well as a Benois de la danse, this modern piece by resident Royal Ballet choreographer, Wayne McGregor manages to capture one’s attention from the outset. Immediately one sits a little higher in one’s chair, the expectations are lifted by a sense that here we have something infinitely worth watching.
Whenever I invite a friend along to the ballet, I try to gauge whether they would enjoy a full classical piece, or rather their introduction to this visual art form would be better served with the variety of a triple bill. Few but the ardent fan can endure the full four-act Swan Lake, for example, yet on this particular occasion, I would gladly have taken anyone. The stereotypes of classical ballet have been replaced with athletic contemporary pieces, revealing lithe, strong, healthy bodies that are a joy to observe, as opposed to the atypical sylph-like ethereal wisps of tulle drifting across the Royal Opera House stage. Each has their place to be sure, however, when introducing a new audience member, one’s attention needs to be grabbed from the outset with a point of reference with which the observer can identify. And grab our attention Infra certainly did!
Greg Hilty, Curatorial Director of the Lisson Gallery and Director of Plus Equals, a creative development agency says,
“Wayne McGregor’s choreographic practice regularly involves collaboration with contemporary visual artists. He describes this as one of several key methods of widening his creative frame of reference from the physical bodies of his dancers on stage to the fully imagined body, which is his real subject.”
McGregor investigates the mind-body interface in choreography, yet never once was there a jarring motion. Many modern pieces, in their quest for innovation or statement, can lack symmetry and flow. It is a rare piece that manages to grasp a novel concept and portray it through the natural use of the dancers’ bodies. There are unusual placements. The dancers are insinuating their limbs into positions quite outside of the classical ballet ‘norm’, yet never once did the lines seem unfinished, and while certainly angular in places (of necessity mirroring the set piece above them), the continuum of line was merely an extension of the dancers’ own bodies. This is in direct contrast with the first piece, Viscera, where one cannot help but notice quirks or habits within the cast members (I refer specifically to flapping wrists that seemed to define the first piece for me). Infra captures the imagination completely through the combination of costume, set art, music and dance that gels so beautifully together in form that one is hard pressed to find fault. Both choreographer, artist and composer have blended a complete synergy of inspiration – people, movement, contemporary setting – to create a singularly important piece that speaks to our generation in such a way that anyone can identify, even if they have never attended the ballet before.
As the choreographer himself remarks, “Literally below the life-affirming Opie screen and beneath the haunting surface of Max Richter’s music, I have attempted to create a series of human intimacies, bared from under the skin – prosaic, imperfect and fragile”, while Opie admits that in the four years since this ballet first premiered: “I have got to know Max Richter’s music much better and I have continued to draw and exhibit works based on the Infra choreography itself.” There’s a quiet sense of triumph in that the innovators of this piece have themselves been touched in some small part by the creative process, and the legacy continues to manifest through subsequent work.
Drawing the strands together, Infra means “below” and this entire piece is set beneath Julian Opie’s electronic art work. The piece on the whole is contemporary, yet classical at the same time, a snapshot of human beings observed in as simple a setting as the mundane act of walking, drawing our attention to the singular quirks of the person, while letting the dance manifest the cohesive whole below.
Significant for me in the final two pieces was the presence of notable stars within the company’s realm, despite this being a performance specifically aimed at attracting students and younger audience members, yet never once did ego override the choreography. Yes, one’s eye is immediately drawn to the sheer magnificence of their ‘presence’, call it experience or maturity, however neither piece became about the stars, rather the principals paid due diligence to the real star of the night: the choreography. We are truly fortunate to have such a pool of talent at our disposal in this city, and the chance (despite typical students’ financial constraints) to now take full advantage of this magnanimous gesture, made possible by the support of the theatre’s generous benefactors.
Visit www.roh.org.uk/studentstandby to register. The Royal Opera House will then email direct with regards to upcoming events where this offer applies. The scheme operates on a first come, first served basis, and the option is available to purchase tickets for two.
NOTE | Karen is currently a 3rd Year on the FdA Arts and Media Management course. She also writes in a freelance capacity for the Guardian Media Network and has a background in professional ballet and dance.
**This article was originally published in Issue 5 of ‘The Lamp and Owl’ magazine - copies available on Birkbeck campuses, 43 Gordon Square & Malet Street
[PHOTOGRAPHS: Infra images: Bill Cooper/ROH]