Paul McCartney's Ocean Kingdom is the most gorgeous new ballet score to come along in years. It's full of lush, beautiful, hummable melodies – tunes that have a tendency to play as infinite loops in your mind for hours at a time. It is expressive and emotional, and is well coordinated with the libretto, also written by McCartney. Sir Paul shares credit for the musical arrangement with John Wilson, and the orchestration was done by Andrew Cottee. Their collaborations have produced a beauty, that's for sure.
Tonight before the actual ballet performance began, NYCB's music director, Faycal Karoui, presented a "See the Music..." segment which explored aspects of McCartney's score. This was a wonderful opportunity for the audience to become acquainted with some of the most passionate melodies of the score before having to process them along with choreography, costumes, and scenery. If Haglund hadn't already pre-ordered the CD a few weeks ago, tonight's presentation would have had him rushing to do so.
Ocean's Kingdom is the story of a sea princess who falls in love with a prince from the earthly kingdom. The prince's older brother, who happens to be king, wants the sea princess for himself. He kidnaps her and imprisons her for a while. She's finally rescued, and lives happily ever after with the prince. There are maidens and punks, entertainers, drunkards, and others. This is a perfect ballet story. It's all that is needed to support choreographic material without handcuffing it to a lot of story details that don't convert to dance.
The choreography that Peter Martins devised for Ocean's Kingdom was a little prosaic although the movement choreographed to the third musical section, Imprisonment, was dramatic and interesting, as were most of the sections for the Terra Punks – a dozen deadly fellows from the earthly kingdom who intrude upon the serenity of the underwater kingdom. Choreography for the character Scala, who is in charge of the princess' handmaidens but who also is a traitor to her boss and facilitates a kidnapping, was quite revealing. It gave NYCB's most dramatic artist, Georgina Pazcoguin, an opportunity to shine brightly. The individual variations of principal dancers Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, and Amar Ramasar were not badly conceived and were danced boldly. Fairchild, especially, was able to insert dynamic qualities into his time alone on stage.
But the PdDs were a problem. The leggy wrap-around, over the shoulder acrobatic moves often had an awkwardness to them, in part, because of the physical types of the principals. Some of the phrases reminded one of Lubovitch's Othello and any number of MacMillan's efforts, and they might have worked much better on another set of dancers elsewhere. But Mearns is not a tiny, lithe, flexible Ferri and Fairchild does not have the partnering power of someone like Gomes. The theatrical effect of their efforts was not spectacular. It all looked like hard work.
The PdD for the "Exotic Couple" Megan LeCrone and Craig Hall was just dreadful and un-exotic. Seeing the manipulations and the extreme use of the extremities took Haglund back to Martins' Calcium Light Night. LeCrone, instead of being costumed in red, was in a hideous yellow unitard. More on the costumes later. This section of the ballet should be excised immediately, and in fact, the Movement II which was designed to display the virtuosity of several gifted dancers needs to be totally re-thought. It didn't work within the context of the libretto and wasn't complimentary to anyone.
The corps work for the women was uninspiring. These ladies can do a lot more than run around waving the bat-wings of their Halloween costumes. The first minute or so of the ballet when the ladies bourree back and forth and around Mearns' sea princess was beautiful and enhanced enormously by the stunning theatrical lighting designed by Mark Stanley. Stanley did a fab job throughout the night especially with the Imprisonment section in which the prison bars were created with spot lights from above the stage. The remainder of the corps women's choreographic assignment was fairly dull and distracting. The final parade of all the dancers had the look of an Olympics closing ceremony, not a ballet by one of the world's greatest companies.
Now to Stella McCartney's costumes. Haglund's main complaint is that they were not responsive to the romanticism, lyricism, and beauty of the musical composition. They were certainly expressive, but with an independence that shouted "Look at me!" as opposed to trying to enhance and further the efforts of the artistic team. The one exception was the design for the Terre Punks. Their unitards of black designs on flesh colored fabric and the mohawk headpieces were really neat and worked well with the choreography. The costume design for the sea princess was like something out of an Art Stone catalog. It was a Grecian-like, flimsy short skirted piece with attached flowing scarf-train that got in the way of every PdD move and obscured many of Mearns' lines. She should have been in a sea-colored unitard that was painted to give her a waistline, not a bunch of fabric that made her look like a Sherman tank. Some of the unitard costumes were of the type that might have shown up in a Cunningham or Graham production, but were sorely out of place in this ballet and did not reflect the emotional expressivity of the score.
The theatrical makeup design by Pat McGrath should be dumped except for the Terre Punks and Scala. It obscured the dancers' expressions although it seemed to work well with the costumes.
All in all, it was a pretty exciting night. Paul McCartney and Haglund hadn't seen each other since August 27, 1964 at the Cincinnati Gardens when McCartney was a Beatle and Haglund was a grade schooler. McCartney went on to do more great things and become a Sir, while Haglund – well, he writes this blog. Anyway, what a great reunion it was. What sensational style Sir Paul brought to NYCB with his beautiful music which was played magnificently by the NYCB Orchestra. All of it is worth a repeat trip to the theater.
Bravo, Sir Paul, and here's the coveted Pump Bump Award (Alexander McQueen's Union Jack) that comes with the Ballet World's most sincere thanks: