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William Bracewell and Fumi Kaneko in “The Weathering” by Kyle Abraham. Photograph by Andrej Uspenski

Dancing in Time

The Royal Ballet premieres Kyle Abraham's “The Weathering”

Performance
The Royal Ballet: “The Weathering” / “Solo Echo” / “DGV: Danse à grande vitesse”
Place
The Royal Opera House, London, UK, April 7, 2022
Words
Róisín O'Brien

Time is of the essence at the Royal Opera House this spring. It hazily drifts past in Kyle Abraham’s “The Weathering;” it brutally constrains the dancers in Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo;” and in Christopher Wheeldon’s “DGV: Danse à grande vitesse,” journeys and travel through the eras come to the fore.

“The Weathering”—a world premiere—sits beautifully on the company; the choreography, understated and poignant, is just so. The dancers are delicately dressed by designer Karen Young in soft pastel satins, with the men in loose flares and the women in chiffon skirts. The performance begins with low hanging lanterns dotted across the stage behind a gauze that gives the opening a misty, early morning feel. Dan Scully’s ethereal lighting fades in and out between warm and cold. We could be living a whole day, watching the seasons change, or be lost in memory.

In amongst ever shifting relationships, a conversation between Liam Boswell and Joshua Junkeremerges. It has joy and tenderness, the two leaning in close to each other as though to share a secret. Yet “The Weathering” ends with a gentle melancholy: something has been lost.

Fumi Kaneko in “The Weathering” by Kyle Abraham. Photograph by Andrej Uspenski/ROH

Abraham’s movement vocabulary throughout is in constant fluidity, with gentle ripples that move through bodies and between people. Casual movements may appear—a gentle relaxation in the shoulders, an incidental step aside—but they are never affected. Pleasing details flicker past, such as a head dive boldly attacked by Melissa Hamilton when in arabesque. Ryan Lott’sscore exists in the almost, pulling into swells of strings that never overbear.A quiet, emotive work.

And then to Pite, that master of movement who crams so much information into the dancers’ bodies it is dizzying to keep up. The tension for “Solo Echo” is ratcheted up—sometimes slightly too much by the committed dancers, but they still manage catch some of the air in Pite’s daring slides and jumps.

The Royal Ballet in “Solo Echo” by Crystal Pite. Photograph by Andrej Uspenski/ROH

Sonatas by Johannes Brahms are Pite’s chosen musical base, with an aching performance on the evening from cellist Christopher Vanderspar. The dancers are echoes of one another caught in violent loops and regurgitations. Who instigates an echo deliciously changes throughout the dance: as one collective extension ends, another dancer takes up the mantle. Starting with conflicted, tense duets, the energy increases as the whole cast zig-zag across the stage before coalescing to form angsty tableaus (an animal sniffing a corpse; a waterfall of collapsing bodies). “Solo Echo” ends with one dancer on stage, the echoes—compressed.

William Bracewell and Yasmine Naghdi in “DGV: Danse à grande vitesse” by Christopher Wheeldon. Photograph by Andrej Uspenski

We close with Wheeldon’s 2006 creation “DGV: Danse à grande vitesse” to Michael Nyman’s score, which was composed to commemorate the 1993 inauguration of the north European line of the French ‘train à grande vitesse,’ or TGV. After the exacting pace of “Solo Echo,” “DGV” feels surprisingly slow at the start. The dancers are expertly controlled as they lean into angled balances, straining at the seams.

Four couples form a loose dramatic centre, while around them or behind an Ozymandias-like half-submerged metal sculpture, move the corps de ballet. Their movements are broken down into constituent components and repeated—like pistons in a steam engine. The company are at ease in Wheeldon’s genial movements, in particular Anna Rose O’Sullivan who brightens up the stage.

The music builds to an emotional crescendo: brass booms out from the pit, a rattled drum solo cuts across from a box. And yet, the piece doesn’t reach a zenith—instead it cuts to the four main couples, the women floating atop their male counterparts, like unmoored spacecraft with nowhere to go.