It’s a brave man who opens an eagerly anticipated night at the Royal Ballet in silence, and an even braver one who picks a fight with a ballet dancer. In Wayne McGregor’s latest contemporary piece, Obsidian Tear, the stage is practically bare save for two men, eyeing each other up menacingly, until they’re joined by seven others.
The variations in their physique and style don’t only create a discussion about the difference in female and male balletic forms, but all the gradients that lie in between. Set against the abstract, discordant strings of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Nyx, a piece inspired by the Greek goddess of night, it’s a striking, androgynous performance that’s as thought-provoking as it is chaotic.
The exploration of gender continues in the second hour-long piece of the night, The Invitation, which was considered gratuitously explicit when it was first performed in the 60s. Revived today by Royal Ballet principal choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, Yasmine Naghdi plays the Girl (yep, that’s her character’s name) who’s infatuated with her Cousin (yep, that’s his name, too).
Set in a country house at the turn of the 20th century, a parade of flouncing couples in flocked taffeta and silk frame a darker tale of an older, married pair who set about seducing the youths. While some of the shock of the rape scene between the Husband and the Girl has seeped away over the years, the violence is still very much intact and the subsequent trauma keenly felt, largely thanks to a moving performance from Naghdi.
In the last performance, Christopher Wheeldon presents the first London revival of In the Golden Hour, a pas de deux between seven couples with music by Ezio Bosso originally created for the San Francisco Ballet. Brilliantly performed, the piece artfully mixes classical duets with modern flourishes, pointe work with lyrical curves, set against an Impressionistic digital screen that changes from spring hues to autumn shades. Delicate, light and joyous from beginning to end.