Some of the more rewarding performances at the Royal Opera House these days seem to take place in the studios or in the Linbury, rather than on the main stage, where there is a chance to see the dancers at close quarters and to appreciate their individual qualities more. The two works in the Cohabitants programme in the Clore studio (one more performance on the 14th) offered a chance to see new work made on the Royal’s dancers for a modest ticket price, and was a great success. Rather more fun than most of the Dance Bites programmes I’ve seen from the Royal in the past.
The opening work, Last Night at the Empire, was by Tom Sapsford, who dances with the company. It was a quirky and amusing piece set to some music hall songs on the piano, with occasional outbursts of song from the cast and a taped excerpt of East Enders (Barbara Windsor at her most melodramatic) which had the audience in fits of giggles. Luke Heydon was the central figure in all this, a faintly sleazy master of ceremonies orchestrating the performance of three girls as doll-like performers. It is interesting to see new work made on a dancer who now is a character principal: usually most of the Dance Bites works were rather more frenetic affairs, set on the younger artists in the company. This wasn’t quite so acrobatic, and relied on Heydon’s presence as well as technique. Entertaining and just the right scale for the venue.
Cathy Marston’s Traces was a more ambitious piece with a very well chosen cast of nine. This was very well received, and I do hope we get to see this again on bigger stage. Marston has produced some of the more interesting works for Dance Bites in the past, which carried a very distinctive stamp. This work marked a further progression: her preoccupations with relationships between the sexes and her fondness for extremely demanding partnering with unusual balances and lifts remain, but the work has a more confident and fluent air about it, well paced and carefully crafted. (Music by Yann Tiersen).
The cast of five men and four women move through various episodes of relationships between the sexes, changing over time. The boys are very much boys to start with, strutting their stuff in front of giggling girls. .Martin Harvey (who had some heroic partnering to perform) and Laura Morera start out in adolescent flirtation: but we see them in another pas de deux later in the work, where they seem much older, and more sour and angry. We see them grappling with one another, seemingly unable either to communicate meaningfully or leave one another alone: the music literally runs out for these two and we see them battle to an exhausted draw accompanied only by the sounds of their breathing . In between we have other interactions: Rachel Rawlins dreamingly infatuated with Bennet Gartside despite her best friends warnings. On the edge of the action all the time is Edward Watson - somehow the boy who was always left out at school, who never got the girl. It’s very striking how much pathos he can extract from writhing quietly in a corner. In the end there’s a sad, tentative duet for him and Jenny Tattersall: very touching, and no happy endings here.
Marston works the dancers fairly hard, but it seems in the service of the work - to show what people do to each other, how they behave, rather than to work them into the ground just for virtuosity’s sake. The cast all worked very hard, and at such close quarters you can really appreciate the effort. Individual characters came across much more clearly than on the main stage. Nevertheless the work seemed to be made on a big enough scale for showing in a larger venue. I hope we see some more Marston at the Royal, on this basis they seem very well suited to each other.