****
Twyla Tharp. Arthur Pita. Hofesh Schechter.
The Royal Ballet,
Royal Opera House, London.
6-17 November 2017.
Review by Primrose MacFay.

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Hofesh Schechter stole the show. Who would have guessed? What a night.

The three part evening opens with the work of Twyla Tharp, the grande dame of modern ballet, in prime position. This is the enjoyable première of “The Illustrated ‘Farewell'”.

Next, Arthur Pita’s première of “The Wind” is an unwitting tribute to hot news: hurricanes, mail-order brides, mental health, handsy men, gun control! With its forty minutes of wind-machine, it is full-blown Arthur Pita, say no more. Even the great Natalia Osipova in the lead role, hanging on for dear life to her sail of a bridal veil, cannot rescue it from pantomime or the rush for the eye-bath at interval.

For the stalwarts who stay to the end of this over-long evening, it is Schechter’s “Untouchable”, holding the audience spell-bound, that earns the evening a top rating. If you can still get a ticket, grab it. The Royal Ballet dancers are, as ever, magnificent.

Schechter has surpassed himself. When I saw the same piece premièred at the ROH in 2015, it was not as good. I can’t pinpoint the details of the difference just from memory, but this time round the performance is sharper, more moving in its emotional heft. Then, he was plainly struggling to work with ballet dancers of the highest order. The struggle is over. Suddenly it works.

Do I imagine it or has Holly Waddington tweaked the costumes so that they are sleeker, more effectively showing their figure-and-ground shift between sad random rags and terrifying military perfection. Schechter’s music, instead of blasting at the audience, is not only beautiful, original and variously apt but  integrated with the whole – and the achievement of this is vivid since we have the comparison with the two earlier pieces in the evening.  Here, the ROH orchestra shifts sensitively between the extremes of sound beloved of Schechter – he writes his own music – from deafening percussion to the lightest, threatening tap; from strings that wail to those that whoop. Last, but far from least, Lee Curran’s lighting is breath-taking, a whole show, a story, on its own, with its threatening, presaging skies, each one a message on its own. This man will surely get an award of his own.

While it’s become a cliché to describe Schechter’s work as born of folk dance, or that his choreography always stomps into the earth rather than reaches into balletic heights, or that he is fascinated with tribal cohesiveness, vague middle-eastern sentiment or ancient ritual, while all that may not be untrue, you can be sure that what his work is about is not them but us.

“Untouchable”, it seems to me, apart from being all the other things too, is an exploration of a dominant impulse within us, the inner soldier if you like, expressed as the military, the militant, the fighting force, defensive and aggressive. We are all culpable. It is that part of us that evolves in every large nation or small community wanting to survive. The dance piece explores the range of themes, attributes and events that arise in an institution that is born of our inner psychological imperatives. Schechter is truly brilliant.

Tharp’s much anticipated new work is an extension of her 1973 “As Time Goes By” which was choreographed to the 3rd and 4th movements of Haydn’s “Farewell” symphony. Hence, the title of this half-new piece, “The Illustrated ‘Farewell'”. Now we are given the whole symphony: the new “prequel” uses the first two movements. Tharp means to complete a circle, starting with the suggestion of a mature couple (Stephen McRae and Sarah Lamb) who look both back and forward into their own youth and into the future of those who follow them, and at the end, perhaps, ascend into the heavens. The choreography is balletic, occasionally snapping into jazz and modern, so that the search into the past and present is also a look at the history of dance as we know it. Curiously, the older choreography incorporates the fusion of styles much more successfully than the premièred section. It is largely the dancers’ virtuosity that holds one in thrall.

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Performances continue 6-17 November 2017 at the Royal Opera House.

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Review by Primrose MacFay.

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schechter 2 Untouchable.
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