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Bernstein Centenary review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘fabulous dancing’

The Age of Anxiety, part of the Bernstein Centenary at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton The Age of Anxiety, part of the Bernstein Centenary at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Two world premieres and a revival from all three associate choreographers of the Royal Ballet whets the appetite.

Wayne McGregor’s opener, Yugen, has a strong resemblance to his magnificent Chroma, at least in the beginning.

Designer Edmund de Waal’s light boxes contain figures who step through on to the stage. To the airy gravitas of the Chichester Psalms dancers in shades of red flit and float in a variety of groupings that echo American choreographers: a hint of Balanchine in the sudden shifts from muscular symmetry to informal conversation, a touch of Robbins in the elastic, free jazz movement and a dash of Cunningham in the rolling, accelerated energy and spidery, swaying limbs – all held together by McGregor’s own choreographic sinew.

A generous, beautifully balanced work ending in an harmonious duet. Christopher Wheeldon’s Corybantic Games takes longer to make an impact in spite of the striking costumes of oyster coloured 1950s-style undergarments and the black ribbons adorning both men and women alike.

Set to Bernstein’s Serenade, a series of athletic games billow across the stage as Peter Mumford’s lighting creates different environments and climates – the red-hued duet ends with a flourish as Marcelino Sambe flings Mayara Magri off stage like a human frisbee; the blue-drenched sequence that follows suggests a sub-aquatic ballet. Little heaps of people snuggle down before separating out into individuals, syncopated jazz shakes the classical dust from their feet and two girls strut in en pointe like catwalk models in a Michael Clark show. Fitfully engaging, amusing and overcrowded, it’s a triumph of style over content.

Liam Scarlett’s hyper-naturalistic Age of Anxiety has lost something since its debut. The mini drama of a quartet of forlorn loners and losers looking for love in a bar in post-war America has been interfered with – goose-stepping patrons and Hitler impersonations are distracting additions – and it has shifted from an Edward Hopper vision of WH Auden’s poem to a Matthew Bourne-ish interpretation of a Charles Bukowski novel. Pity.

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Fabulous dancing elevates a variable triple bill celebrating Leonard Bernstein’s centenary