The twin allure of the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden and Pina Bausch at Sadler’s Wells was irresistible. So Ballet to the People ordered some fine spring weather and hopped across the pond.
On deplaning, she hightailed it over to the Royal Opera House for the final night of a curious mixed bill that seems to have been programmed by the ancient dart-throwing method. Balanchine’s iconic The Four Temperaments set a high bar for the rest of the evening, followed by a much-anticipated new work by Hofesh Shechter, Untouchable. And a 65-minute closer, which violates the general rules of programming evenings of dance – except that it’s Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth, set to the sublime Mahler song cycle, “Das Lied von der Erde.”
The following evening, jet lag fully banished by the Shechter, she gatecrashed a rehearsal at the Royal Ballet, in which Wayne McGregor took Alessandra Ferri (in an audacious comeback, after retiring from the stage in 2007), Edward Watson and Federico Bonelli through their paces for a new, full-length ballet inspired by three novels by Virginia Woolf.
Hanging upside down, draped over Federico Bonelli’s back, the fragile-looking Alessandra Ferri piped up, offhandedly: “I think you have the other leg.”
There then ensued a conversation over whether Bonelli should have wrapped his arm around her upstage leg. “I thought you bent it so I could get through to the downstage leg,” he explained.
Watching the two work it out, choreographer Wayne McGregor mused: “Perhaps it’s a good thing they’re not married.” The audience of about 100 in the Royal Opera House’s intimate Clore rehearsal studio chuckled.
Next up was a Pina Bausch work never previously seen in London. In Auf dem Gebirge Hat Man ein Geschrei Gehört (On the Mountain a Cry Was Heard), the striking dancers of Tanztheater Wuppertal spent the evening diving into and thrashing around in a thick layer of dirt that covered the stage at Sadler’s Wells – a clean, chemical-free, soil, we were relieved to hear, that minimized the hazard to the dancers.
They danced to Billie Holiday’s feverish protest song, “Strange Fruit,” about lynchings in the American South, Mendelssohn’s “War March of the Priests,” tunes made popular by Fred Astaire and Edith Piaf, and schmaltz played live by a dignified, silver-haired ensemble identified in the program as An Orchestra of Senior Musicians.
When not slip-sliding around in the dirt, the dancers careened around the auditorium, stripped, played the piano, tried to scale the proscenium wall, ganged up on one another, and executed rituals by turns lyrical, cryptic, and cruel.