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Obsidian Tear/Marguerite and Armand/Elite Syncopations review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘idiosyncratic mixed bill’

For the final triple bill of the Royal Ballet season, the only connection between the pieces is that their makers have been resident choreographers of the company. This random juxtaposition only highlights the inadequacies of the weakest work.

Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear pales in comparison to the others – and to its own first performances in 2016 [1]. The scenario remains intriguing: a group of men in flowing black trousers put a red-trousered individual through an ancient initiation ceremony by a glowing volcano. Weaving Indonesian temple dancing into his customarily angular juttings and rubbery contortions, McGregor employs a series of fashionable designers to no discernible end other than to look cool. The cumulative tension that characterised the debut is conspicuously absent.

Frederick Ashton used just one designer for his 1963 distillation of La Dame Aux Camelias, Marguerite and Armand. Cecil Beaton’s exquisitely detailed costumes contrast with a skeletal set and the judicious use of photographs. Alessandra Ferri is perfection as Marguerite, shuddering convulsively with coughing fits and surrendering herself with a pliancy that belies her 55 years to Federico Bonelli’s Armand. Delivering one of his best performances, Bonelli lifts Ferri as if she were made of spun glass, later whirling her around in blind passion like a human hula hoop.

Kenneth MacMillan created Elite Syncopations in 1974 as an antidote to the psychologically debilitating Manon. Set to series of jolly rags by Scott Joplin and others, its motley crew of entertainers lark about to an onstage band. The eye-watering colours and the vaudevillian routines suggest that MacMillan just wanted to cheer himself up – either that, or he was on acid. Some of the raunchier elements seem to have been neutered, which is neither desirable nor productive. MacMillan would not have approved.

The oldest work shines brightest in this idiosyncratic mixed bill from the Royal Ballet

Production Information

Obsidian Tear/Marguerite and Armand/Elite Syncopations
Royal Opera House
April 14, 2018
May 11, 2018
Press night
April 14, 2018
Esa-Pekka Salonen/Franz Liszt/Scott Joplin and others
Tom Seligman
Wayne McGregor/Frederick Ashton/Kenneth MacMillan
Wayne McGregor/Cecil Beaton
Lucy Carter (lighting)/John B Read
Katie Shillingford (fashion director)/Ian Spurling
Grant Coyle, Christopher Saunders, Gary Avis (staging)
Stage manager
Johanna Adams Farley
Production manager
Emily Seekings, Jo Maund
Cast includes
Luca Acri, Matthew Ball, William Bracewell, Alexander Campbell, Tristan Dyer, Ryoichi Hirano, Paul Kay, Calvin Richardson, Tomas Mock, Alessandra Ferri, Federico Bonelli, Christopher Saunders, Gary Avis, Yuhui Choe, Melissa Hamilton, Itziar Mendizabal, Sarah Lamb, James Hay
Royal Ballet, Boston Ballet
Running time
2hrs 45mins