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Obsidian Tear/The Invitation/Within The Golden Hour review at Royal Opera House – ‘rewarding’

Matthew Ball and Calvin Richardson in Obsidian Tear at the Royal Opera House, London. Photo: ROH 2016/Andrej Uspenski
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Colour me vexed. As a result of an email containing erroneous information sent to several critics, myself included, I missed the first ten minutes of Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear. While the opening duet to a violin solo may be crucial to a better understanding of the work, the remaining twenty minutes are sufficiently loaded with imagery to attempt an analysis.

The black and red design and the flowing, skirt-like costumes of the all male ensemble suggest an ancient civilisation – Mayan, possibly – in a volcanic environment. The presence of one man in red among the black-clad ensemble and the patterns of the choreography indicate a ritual sacrifice is in progress. The stark, clean lines of the shifting relationships as they pair off in duets, limbs slicing the air to the thunderous timpani, surging strings and doomladen brass of Esa-Pekka Salonen’s dramatic score have a clear, uncluttered definition. The red glowing strip of magma at the front of the stage along which Edward Watson strolls like a firewalker is tantalisingly dangerous. From what I managed to see it comes across like a cool, graceful if slightly anaemic variation on The Rite of Spring.

It is twenty years since the Royal Ballet’s last production of Kenneth MacMillan’s extraordinary ballet The Invitation. The corruption of innocence has rarely been more graphically portrayed in dance as the Ashtonian Edwardian frolic of the opening descends into the depths of depravity in which an unhappily married couple seduce a pair of adolescents with utter disregard for the consequences. Bravely performed by all – especially Francesca Hayward, Zenaida Yanowsky and Gary Avis – it is a genuinely disturbing masterpiece.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Within The Golden Hour continues to delight with its melting back screen, colours bleeding into one another as the dancers form gorgeous whorls and fluid diagrams in an abstract ballet of uplifting, bucolic beauty, all culminating in an organically synchronised climax. A provocative and rewarding programme.

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Wayne McGregor's enticingly austere new work pales in comparison with two blazing masterpieces