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Within the Golden Hour/Medusa/Flight Pattern review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘serpentine new work from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’

Natalia Osipova and Matthew Ball in Medusa by Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui at Royal Opera House, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Abuse of power, victim-blaming, emasculation and female rage – the Medusa myth contains so much that resonates today. It’s disappointing that superstar choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s re-imagining of it is an oddly static, dramatically absent affair.

Even the mega-watt intensity of Natalia Osipova as the devotee-turned-Gorgon is somehow dulled, not least by her snake-free headgear: the writhing mythic horror of Medusa’s hair is reduced to an over-moussed coif, complete with practical chin-strap.

There’s plenty of serpentine imagery in the choreography – Osipova extends worming wrists and lethal legs in every direction to assault her attackers – but somehow the physical joins are apparent in this sinuous whirl of movement and the ensemble effect is laboured. The music, however gorgeous, doesn’t help in this regard: works from Purcell’s semi-operas bestow an antique atmosphere over proceedings, but the stately pace only enhances the ballet’s missed dramatic beats, like the perfunctory snatch that separates Medusa from her head, or rapist Poseidon’s desultory perambulations.

There are very striking moments, particularly from Olivia Cowley as retributory virgin goddess Athena, glimmering in gold as she stalk-slides on pointe with her former handmaiden’s scalp, but the flat feeling abides, along with a sense that some things are best left on the page.

Yet both other works on the bill are profound examples of how supremely eloquent and intelligent dance can be. Sarah Lamb is lit with a musical immanence in Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour, while Crystal Pite’s deeply humane Flight Pattern is a genius evocation of displacement and grief.

Prima ballerina Natalia Osipova: ‘I don’t like it when artists get involved in politics’

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Two outstanding works flank a disappointing premiere in the Royal’s latest triple bill