Ashton's Rhapsody, his last major work, and MacMillan's Gloria both fielded exceptional casts including exciting newcomers but McGregor's new work failed to ignite.
The subtitle: The Art of Fugue, raises expectations that are not fulfilled in the mosaic of short pieces which tinker round the edges but don't cohere into a meaningful work, a factor which becomes painfully visible coming directly after Ashton’s masterpiece.
McGregor’s immersion into the mechanics of movement generates a myopic vision circling ever inward and despite the brilliance of the cast – a good slice of the best of the Royal – the choreography is less than memorable.
The fractured nature of the work is reflected in the designs of neon lighting in bright primary colours by Taube Auerbach. There are instances when a striking stage picture is created – in fact, quite a few in the black and white trios - but more often the elements seem intent on going their own way. These trios, fleet and fluid, featured Sarah Lamb, Steven McRae and Paul Kay and brought a welcome sense of involvement.
Lauren Cuthbertson is a dancer whose cool detached style always complements McGregor’s work but two of the RB’s loveliest, Marianela Nuñez and Natalia Osipova, had few opportunities to display more than their hyper flexibility and little of their true artistry. In the final moments Kay in an enigmatic solo seemed about to create some cohesion, at which point, the lights fade.
Laura Morera, Spanish born and English trained has become, over her years with the company, an embodiment of the Ashton technique. In Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody, where the virtuoso male is foregrounded, she provides the perfect foil in her yielding body, defined epaulement and delicate precise footwork. Steven McRae, in the role created for Mikhail Baryshnikov, outdoes the creator executing batterie of laser brilliance, jumps of explosive velocity and a dash of contemporary nonchalance.
In a role where every entrance presents a raft of fiendishly difficult hurdles, he saved the best for last in a final burst of chaines which drew a slow release gasp of sheer disbelief from the audience who, well used to his technical virtuosity, could not believe the superhuman speed he achieved.