The Misty Frontier, Javier de Frutos and dancers of the Royal Ballet, Linbury Theatre, 30 November 2001
So far this season, the Linbury has been showing a preponderance of music and opera, rather than dance. I’m pleased to say that the balance is beginning to shift, and this performance by the choreographer Javier de Frutos and some members of the Royal heralds the beginning of more new works in the new year, including new work by RB dancers Vanessa Fenton and Alastair Marriott. You never quite know these new works and collaborations are going to work out, but it’s always good to get to see some of the less senior members of the company take prominent roles and get to know them better. De Frutos has run his own dance company (which had a reputation for a fair amount of nudity) and has made works for other companies, including Rambert.
The premise for this particular work according to the programme note, was de Frutos imagining what it must have been like on a particular occasion in 1945 when Tennessee Williams, on holiday in Mexico was introduced to George Balanchine. “Ah” said the lady next to me, “it’s about Balanchine, so it can’t be all that weird, then, can it ?’. Um. Well yes and no. The work was for six dancers (Martin Harvey, Emily Low, Ernst Meisner, Marianella Nunez, Nicole Ransley, Jose Maria Tirado) plus de Frutos himself. It is set mostly to a recording (yes, really) of ‘How to be a ventriloquist’ by Jimmy Nelson, ( a dialogue between him and his dummy as to how to form the different letters of the alphabet without moving your lips) intercut with occasional bits of Bach. Bonkers. Yet as a whole the work was oddly satisfying, and a much stronger work than de Frutos’s recent The Celebrated Soubrette for Rambert.
De Frutos gives us some surprisingly classical steps, opening with a pas de deux for Nunez and Harvey which is polished and formal, and as close as we get to any hint of Balanchine. Emily Low has a much more animated squabble with her two partners. Through this, de Frutos stalks and slides, an organising and controlling master of ceremonies – benign ? sinister ? A terrific and enigmatic stage presence, who operates in his own dance language, quite distinct from what he asks for from the other dancers. Movement appears to flow through him like wind through a tree: it seems to come from an invisible source and turn his arms and shoulders peculiarly liquid. The mix of completely different styles of dance is unsettling, but it keeps the attention. De Frutos partners Nicole Ransley, looking faintly quizzical – on pointe she towers a good foot or more above him. Her composure is unshaken.
I usually find dance to any spoken text not to my taste at all, and the words initially seemed grating, and entirely unconnected to the dance. But the connection did creep in, particularly in De Frutos’s own physical illustration of the difficult letters of the ventriloquist’s alphabet (you have to say b while thinking d ) which picked up a manic rhythm. And Nunez’s series of fouetees to the recitation of the alphabet was a good joke, neatly and unflashily delivered. The piece works the dancers hard – it’s about an hour and towards the end they looked slightly ragged. Many of the dancers are regulars in these Clore and Linbury performances – Martin Harvey seems to appear in everything, and looks particularly good in this, and partnered Nunez very well. Emily Low and Jose Maria Tirado had a fine battle of wills. Nicole Ransley is leaving the company soon, which is a pity : she had poise and calm.
Future ADI (Artist’s Development Initiative) events in the Clore Studio at the ROH include Fenton / Marriott on 5 and 6 Feb, Outside In (a series of external choreographers making work for RB dancers) 18 – 21 Feb, Tuckett 15, 17, 18 April, and Cathy Marston / Tom Sapsford 13 – 16 May. It really is worthwhile trying to get to these. Tickets often sell out early. Anything might turn up on the programme. Even ventriloquism.