Viscera or 2015 Royal Ballet Dance Review (my title). Recorded live at the Royal Opera House on November 12, 2015 in part to honor Carlos Acosta, who retired from the ROB after the performance seen on disc. Below is the program in the order each item appears on the video. All music is by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House conducted by Emmanuel Plasson except the Carmen, which is conducted by the arranger Martin Yates. Sergey Levitin serves as Concert Master in all segments. Directed for screen by Ross MacGibbon. Keepcase booklet does not give track information or playing times. The disc menu is extremely confusing. Released 2016, disc was recorded with 48kHz/24-bit sampling rate and has 5.1 dts-HD Master Audio sound output. Here are the segments:
- Viscera choreographed by Liam Scarlett to music from the Piano Concerto No. 1 by Lowell Liebermann. Stars Laura Morera, Marianela Nuñez, and Ryoichi Hirano. Also dancing are Yuhui Choe, Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Emma Maguire, Alexander Campbell, Valentino Zucchetti, Olivia Cowley, Isabessa Gasparini, Tierney Heap, Chisato Katsura, Yasmine Naghdi, Nicol Edmonds, Benjamin Ella, and Kevin Emerton. Solo piano by Robert Clark. Costumes by Liam Scarlett; lighting by John Hall; Assistant Ballet Master Ricardo Cervera; Benesh Notator Amanda Eyles. Viscera lasts about 21 1/2 minutes.
- Afternoon of a Faun choreographed by Jerome Robbins to music of Claude Debussy. Stars Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov. Costumes by Irene Sharaff; set and original lighting designed by Jean Rosenthal; lighting design re-created by Les Dickert; staging by Jean-Pierre Frohlich and Jonathan Cope; Ballet Master Jonathan Cope; Benesh Notator Gregory Mislin. Lasts about 11 minutes.
- Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux choreographed by George Balanchine to music of Tchaikovsky. Starts Iana Salenko and Steven McRae. Costumes designed by Anthony Dowell; lighting designed by John B. Read; staging by Patricia Neary; Ballet Master Christopher Saunders. Lasts about 10 minutes.
- Carmen choreographed by Carlos Acosta to music of Georges Bizet (arrangement by Martin Yates who also conducts). Stars Marianela Nuñez (Carmen), Carlos Acosta (Don José), Federico Bonelli (Escamillo), Matthew Golding (Fate), Thomas Whitehead (Zuniga), Valentino Zucchetti (Remendado), Thomas Mock (Dancaïre), Kristen McNally (Frasquita), Lara Turk (Mercedes), Artists of the Royal Ballet, and Fiona Kimm (Fortune-Teller). Designs by Tim Hatley; lighting by Peter Mumford; Ballet Master Christopher Saunders; Assistant to the Choreographer (Ivan Gil-Ortega); Benesh Notator Anna Trevien. Lasts about 59 minutes.
Some things old and some things new to celebrate great dancers of the ROB and to honor Carlos Acosta on his retirement. Grade: B blended grade for entire title
The word "viscera" means the soft internal organs or "guts." There have been several extreme modern dance or performance groups that used "viscera" or "visceral" in their names to advise potential audiences of the controversial or shocking nature of their performances. But I think Liam Scarlett uses the term to suggest that his abstract dance piece deals with multiple and deep aspects of the art of modern dance. The 16 dancers he deploys see a lot of action in many combinations headed by what I'll call a "leader" and featuring one star duet couple. Viscera reminds me of Balanchine's Jewels with the addition of some Wayne McGregor style hyper-extensions.
The leader is one of my favorite dancers, Laura Morera. Laura has had a long career and has danced just about all the famous roles as principal. But in our HDVDs, it seems she always appears as a supporting dancer. (Nobody else can dance the harlot as well as Laura.) So I'm delighted to see her beauty, charm, and fierce athleticism celebrated in Viscera, and you can see all of this in my first screenshot below:
Laura dominates the action in first and last (fast) movements of the Liebermann piano concerto. The middle slow movement belongs to the pas-de-deux couple, Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano, whom you see in the next two shots:
In the next picture, the whole corps is pumping except for Laura, who stands still and gazes at the audience:
It seems Laura is always ready to tackle the next assignment, which she will execute with indomitable energy:
Afternoon of a Faun
"Isn't sharing love the greatest success for humanity?" Sarah Lamb in Dance Magazine, October 2016, page 80
After watching the complicated and hard-driven Viscera, we are next treated to a piece for just two dancers (Sarah Lamb and Vadim Muntagirov) who tell a story by hardly moving. Many say Afternoon of a Faun is the greatest poem (untranslatable of course) ever written in French. The Debussy music inspired by the poem is often considered to be the first composition of modern music. And inspired by the limpid liquid languid longings depicted in the poem and music, Jerome Robbins came up with one of the most remarkable cameo ballets ever. The only thing that happens is one kiss . . . and every second is mesmerizing:
If you are wondering what's really going on here, the two dancers are in a studio and are looking at themselves in a mirror that form a wall between them and us. They don't think anyone is watching:
Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux
This is a Balanchine piece that Salenko and McRae perform with precision and eland:
In recent years, Carlos Acosta has been increasingly active as a choreographer. He had the good fortune of getting Martin Yates to create a fresh arrangement that lets Acosta tell the Carmen story in about an hour. With a black wig, Marianela Nuñez makes a reasonably enticing Carmen:
Acosta comes up with a series of stunts. Here the men lusting for Carmen discard their shirts first, and later also their pants!
Not everything works. Where did Carlos as Don José get that silly hat? And the seduction scene in a jail with a chain is too complicated and odd:
The Gypsy party is over-choreographed. I prefer the Gypsy dancing in the Carmen Royal Opera productions to what Acosta gives us here. But Acosta tries to make up for things that fall flat by adding spoken language, opera-level solo and choral singing, mute actors, and stage music as new dramatic elements to his Carmen:
The toreador Escamillo (Federico Bonelli) hits it off with Carmen:
The fortune teller (opera singer Fiona Kimm) with Frasquita (Kristen McNally) and Mercedes (Lara Turk):
Acosta invents a new character, called Fate, to haunt Carmen in his ending. I've seen Matthew Golding, currently one of the great ballet superstars, in several other HDVDs, but I didn't recognize him when he appeared in this costume. Fate is a minor supporting role---I guess they wanted to work their new star dancer into the action somehow:
This is all purely subjective, but I think Viscera deserves a B as a decent piece of modern dance. Afternoon of a Faun gets an A+ and is something every ballet fan should have. The Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux is A quality work; but if you are a ballet lover, you already have a ton of wonderful performances like it. I don't think the rather uneven Acosta Carmen is going anywhere---I'll give it a C. I'll give the recital as a whole the blended grade of B.