When Carlos Acosta retires next season, we hope that the Royal Ballet will: 1) livestream the event worldwide for free, 2) figure out a way to set up a jumbotron in Havana so that the Cubans can watch, and 3) set up a jumbotron in the theater in London so that Carlos can see his homeland audience cheering. What a career this man has had. He truly belongs to the entire ballet world.
Haglund had a little breakdown Sunday night after realizing that the Carousel PdD, in which Carlos and the lovely Sarah Lamb had just danced their hearts out, was probably a goodbye. Their performance was so incredible and moving that Haglund wanted it to be the end of his evening. Some things are just too good to be followed; anything that came next was going to be a downer. So, he skipped The Age of Anxiety and headed home.
The Carousel PdD was created by Kenneth MacMillan for a 1992 revival of the Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical at the National Theatre. He died six weeks prior to the premiere. Even something as small as a PdD created for insertion in a musical could be a complete, stirring story on its own when left to the imagination and craft of MacMillan. Here Sarah Lamb as Louise, the daughter of Billy Bigelow, and Carlos Acosta as a carnival worker with the same tough likability as Billy, take up for a brief encounter – she's seriously looking for love, he’s not. He charms her; they dance; he walks away and breaks her heart. It’s such a simple, even ordinary story – a portrait to which nearly everyone can relate. But it becomes bigger than life on stage when painted with MacMillan’s huge, sweeping strokes of choreography that include dramatic exchanges and lifts that catch the climax of the musical phrases. It is all a perfect vehicle for Acosta’s tough charisma and Lamb’s delicate determination.
Haglund saw this cast twice and the alternate cast of Matthew Golding and Lauren Cuthbertson once. The alternate cast's interpretation was also very good but much safer dramatically.
This program included works by the Royal Ballet’s current lineup of in-house dance makers. All of the pieces were strong on concept and suggested that the choreographers have insight and skill – none of which was realized in the pieces presented. None of them seemed worth a second viewing although Haglund managed to sit through most of them three times.
Liam Scarlett’s The Age of Anxiety, set to Leonard Bernstein’s score which was inspired by W.H. Auden’s poem, is embarrassingly derivative and shallow. Choreography to Bernstein's music that shows three guys, including a sailor, in a bar who meet up with a 1940s game dame in a bright dress was fancy free of originality and Fancy Free imitation. Why on earth did the Royal Ballet bring this to New York?
The Aeternum Pas de Deux by Christopher Wheeldon should probably not be criticized so harshly because it was presented out of context. It may be that when surrounded by the rest of his full length ballet, it is illuminating. Here it wasn’t, and looked suspiciously like several other Wheeldon works that we have seen.
Wayne McGregor’s Infra, a multimedia-dependent unimaginative piece, continued to reveal the severe limitations of the choreographer’s vocabulary. He’s a science & math kind of guy, and we know that this and all of the Royal Ballet’s work is notated. So, we have an idea. How about going through the notation and measuring the frequency with which McGregor relies on splitting a woman’s legs to 180 degrees or farther. It is so prevalent that it begins to look like a speech stutter or insertion of meaningless filler-words in a conversation – like, you know, uh-uh-um, split. Measure the frequency of the other four moves that comprise most of the choreography and it all adds up to no new choreographic ideas imbedded in flashy production concept.
The lighting in this work and the horizontal transmission of LED figures walking calmly above while the dancers below engage in brutally forced extensions, gymnastic elements, and rapid arm minutiae convey the idea of the piece clearly enough. But it is repetitive and exactly what we’ve come to expect from Wayne McGregor. Someone should do the math for him so that he can see that he needs to expand his dance vocabulary instead of relying on expanding the women’s legs.
Calvin Richardson’s The Dying Swan, Alastair Marriott’s Borrowed Light, and Bronislava Nijinska’s Le Train bleu ‘Le beau gosse’ – three solos for men – looked like offerings from the contemporary competition at YAGP. Don’t try to get away with this kind of stuff unless you are Acosta or Baryshnikov, because its success depends on tremendous charisma that none of this weekend’s performers possessed. Thankfully, each piece was very brief.
Frederick Ashton’s Voices of Spring was included in this Divertissements section of the weekend rep program. It was very nice to see – mostly because it exhibited creativity and musicality that were missing from most of the other offerings.
Haglund loves the Royal Ballet and could not be more grateful for their visit to Lincoln Center. It seems they arrived wearing their best clothes and cape (Ashton and MacMillan) but unfortunately accessorized rather cheaply. Next time, hopefully they’ll go to the vault and bring out some of the fine jewels for us to see. And they need to find the courage to bring back Mayerling.
The weekend H.H. Pump Bump Award, one of pure class that never goes out of style, is bestowed upon Carlos Acosta who has brought us such joy and blockbuster performances throughout his career.