By Alice Baker
Royal Opera House, London
Ranging from apocalyptic bleakness to light comedy, the subject matter and structures of the Royal Ballet’s trilogy of ballets certainly couldn’t be accused of lacking variety. Part of a season marking the 25th anniversary of the death of Royal Ballet Director Kenneth MacMillan, the three segments revived notable productions from his era.
Heading the group was Gloria, an abstract meditation on the First World War. With a bleak wasteland as backdrop, dancers came together in apparently chaotic combinations, at times falling to the ground limply as if dead, at others freezing at violent angles to one another. Meanwhile an offstage soprano sang Latin prayers, adding to the ominous atmosphere, although at times hammering the message home a little too insistently. To some extent it prettified the conflict, but this staging still carried emotional power.
The central piece, The Judas Tree, was insistently modern. Set on a construction site, the score incorporated the sounds of construction work through use of jangling metallic instruments such as steel pan, cymbals and cowbell. These also helped to convey an atmosphere of menace and threat. This was the only one of the three to have a plot: a classic story of a love triangle with tragic consequences. However, apart from the broad themes of betrayal and guilt, there seemed little connection with the biblical crucifixion story suggested by the title.
Providing light relief, in the exuberant third piece dancers in candy-coloured costumes danced in groups or pairs to the accompaniment of ragtime tunes. The piece cleverly manged to capture the atmosphere of the ragtime era while still being true to the classical ballet moves, and was even funny in places.
Overall an interesting and varied collection, though some aspects (especially of the first two) seemed wilfully obscure.