Crys­tal Pite finds beauty and brav­ery with grip­ping vi­sion of the refugee cri­sis

The Guardian - - JOURNAL - Un­til Fri­day. Box of­fice: 020-7304 4000. Ju­dith Mack­rell Pho­to­graph: Tris­tram Ken­ton for the Guardian

Dance Royal Ballet triple bill Royal Opera House, Lon­don

It’s been 18 years since a woman last chore­ographed a ballet for the Opera House main stage. But as Crys­tal Pite breaks that un­con­scionably dry spell, the brave, grip­ping and beau­ti­ful work she has cre­ated could not be less open to charges of to­kenism.

Flight Pat­tern is set to the first move­ment of Górecki’s Sym­phony of Sor­row­ful Songs, fre­quently mis­in­ter­preted as a work about the Holo­caust. Pite uses its im­mense, pierc­ing mu­si­cal land­scape to chore­o­graph the refugee cri­sis that is the hu­man­i­tar­ian night­mare of our own times. It’s a daunt­ing sub­ject, risk­ing emo­tional bom­bast or triv­i­al­i­sa­tion, and Pite does in fact strike one false note. But for most of the work’s 30 min­utes she han­dles her ma­te­rial with a courage and hu­man­ity that are ex­cep­tional and en­tirely con­vinc­ing.

The ballet is cast for 36 dancers, and dur­ing most of it Pite works with the full en­sem­ble. We see them first as a rock­ing, shuf­fling hud­dle of dis­placed hu­man­ity, uni­formly dressed in grey, but as they be­gin to jour­ney in search of safety, Pite brings life to the group. The chore­og­ra­phy’s ab­strac­tion be­comes tex­tured with knot­ted braids and waves of move­ment; it is given hu­man va­ri­ety with small, ver­nac­u­lar ges­tures that speak of dig­nity, de­ter­mi­na­tion and des­per­a­tion. And at mo­ments it is punc­tu­ated by con­cen­trated vi­gnettes, win­dows into in­di­vid­ual lives that in­clude a flar­ing, ex­citable duet for two men, a joy­ous lovers’ re­union and an al­most un­bear­ably har­row­ing pi­eta in which one woman (Kris­ten McNally) dis­cov­ers that the baby she is cradling is dead.

The work fal­ters only when Pite al­lows emo­tion to spill into histri­on­ics. As the en­sem­ble file off stage through a nar­row­ing door­way and into a snow bliz­zard, Marcelino Sambé is left alone to dance a solo of fran­tic, frus­trated fury. This makes sense, yet mu­si­cally and stylis­ti­cally the solo seems un­teth­ered to the rest of the chore­og­ra­phy, and rather than nail­ing the ballet’s theme, its an­guish feels un­earned.

It’s a mys­tery why cer­tain dancers at cer­tain mo­ments are able to reach out from the stage and steal our souls. When Mar­i­anela Nuñez and Thi­ago Soares per­form the ex­tended duet in Christo­pher Wheel­don’s Af­ter the Rain they ac­tively play down the ballet’s phys­i­cal dra­mat­ics. Yet they are so im­mersed in each other and in their un­rav­el­ling cur­rents of trust and com­mu­ni­ca­tion that we’re drawn in just as deeply. It’s not so much dance we’re watch­ing, but states and shapes of pure emo­tion.

In David Daw­son’s Hu­man Sea­sons, it’s skid­ding speeds and py­rotech­nic part­ner work that are de­signed to im­press. Daw­son is a se­ri­ously in­ven­tive chore­og­ra­pher, with a spe­cial gift for struc­ture, and this ballet is a lovely show­case for some of the Royal’s ju­nior tal­ent. But the stage is too busy, too clever with steps, and there are mo­ments where Daw­son needs to give his chore­og­ra­phy the chance to feel and breathe.

Thirty-six dancers be­gin as a hud­dle of dis­placed hu­man­ity, but come to life as they search for safety

A ballet for our times … Flight Pat­tern by Crys­tal Pite

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