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  • Your reaction: The Four Temperaments / Untouchable / Song of the Earth

Your reaction: The Four Temperaments / Untouchable / Song of the Earth

What did you think of The Royal Ballet's Mixed Programme featuring works by George Balanchine, Hofesh Shechter and Kenneth MacMillan?

By Hayley Bartley (Former Content Producer (Learning))

28 March 2015 at 9.50am | 20 Comments

Press reviews:
Evening Standard ★★★★ / ★★★★ / ★★★
The Stage ★★★★
Financial Times ★★★★ / ★ / ★★★★
Times (£) ★★★
Guardian ★★★
Arts Desk (£) ★★★
Telegraph (No star rating, generally positive)

What did you think of The Four Temperaments / Untouchable / Song of the Earth?

The programme is given with generous philanthropic support from Sarah and Lloyd Dorfman.

This article has 20 comments

  1. Karen responded on 28 March 2015 at 12:22pm Reply

    Enjoyed 4 Temps more than I expected given the last time I saw it was by NYCB (yep, THAT old). Also loved many elements of Untouchable - music, the trancelike/hypnotic movement, costumes/set and while it seemed excellently peformed, the whole did not seem to be more than the sum of the parts. Not sure why. Would see it again though.
    Song of the Earth is quite a challenge. Rather ragged in places from some surprising quarters. Maybe first night nerves?. Will improve.

  2. An odd evening. It was rather sad that the corp de ballet were given an opportunity to be the interest of a piece that could have been performed by any half-decent jobbing dancer. There is a lot of stuff like 'Untouchable' around, with various degrees of success, I found it a lot of noise signifying nothing. Anyone would think there are no choreographers producing innovative ballet for classically trained dancers of the RB calibre.

  3. ML responded on 28 March 2015 at 3:00pm Reply

    Untouchable was powerful, stunning and a wonderful premiere to watch. Fantastic to see a new score played in the opera house specially composed for the ballet, and the lighting was excellent too. A super addition to the repertory. Four Temperaments was wonderfully danced by all, conveying the difference in each temperament. The quartet of Nunez, Choe, Kaneko and Hamilton in Song of the Earth - just sheer poetry.

  4. karenb responded on 28 March 2015 at 9:38pm Reply

    Absolutely loved untouchable. Great to see some of the younger dancers in a world premiere.

  5. MC responded on 29 March 2015 at 3:00pm Reply

    Let me begin by congratulating the management on showing two masterpieces by major twentieth century choreographers.The presence of Four Temperaments and Song of the Earth on the same bill is such a pleasure after months of what seems like wall to wall Don Q , Swan Lake and Onegin. It would be nice if the company were to dip into its twentieth century treasury of works by Ashton, Macmillan and Nijinska and not always come up with the same few pieces. There are plenty of works that have not been performed in years such as MacMillan's Four Seasons, Ashton's Two Pigeons and Balanchine's Liebeslieder Waltzes none of which have been seen for thirty years.

    Back to Friday night.The Balanchine had clearly been carefully coached and was well danced .The Song of the Earth was slightly under par and did not register as much as it has in previous revivals. This time it took some time to make its effect. Was it lack of rehearsal time or dancers new to their roles failing to get to grips with them? At some points the three main dancers seemed to come noticeably closer to the singers than I recall seeing before.
    As to the Schecter I am not sure that I saw enough of it to be entitled to comment on it.It was intended to be "challenging", I am sure, and so it proved,for all the wrong reasons.Large sections of it were difficult to see because of the atmospheric lighting. Those sections that were visible through the gloom struck me as banal and of little interest.At least we were spared three or four pages of programme notes of the "Why I am a genius" variety which some contemporary dance makers seem to find essential.
    It would be of great assistance to me, and I am sure to others, to know whether the works of modern "challenging choreographers" are all made to be seen from the first ten rows of the stalls and are dimly lit through sheer incompetence or indifference to the paying audience higher up in the house.If low lighting levels are the result of the choreographer's deliberate decision then perhaps the company should consider reducing all ticket prices for programmes including such pieces save for those in rows A to K in the stalls on the basis that the rest of the audience is only getting a restricted view of the work in question.The cheaper solution would be to make it clear that ballets have to be visible to everyone who is not sitting in an officially designated restricted view seat.Perhaps requiring people like Wayne McGregor and Mr Shechter to watch their works in rehearsal from the Amphitheatre would resolve the visibility problem. .

    • Nina Battleday responded on 30 March 2015 at 5:04pm

      Totally agree with your wishes to see some of the Ashton, Macmillan repertoire that seem to have vanished for ever. I'm sure most of us would be only too happy to provide a 'wish list' if the RB has forgotten some of it's older works! A bit of Antony Tudor and some Kylian wouldn't come amiss either.

    • Ellen West (Head of Creative Studios and Digital Products) responded on 30 March 2015 at 7:34pm

      Dear Nina

      What would you most like to see?

      Best wishes


  6. Jan Cockburn responded on 29 March 2015 at 5:05pm Reply

    Really exciting evening with contrasting choreography through all three pieces. Loved seeing classically trained dancers move in such a different way, each and every one embracing every step through Untouchable. Spellbinding.

  7. Alison Johnston responded on 29 March 2015 at 6:23pm Reply

    Untouchable was extraordinary,amazing, no - breathtaking. One of the very few ballets that, when it finished, I felt I hadn't breathed throughout. (Metamorphosis with Ed Watson was another) I absolutely loved it. Tho' dance would be more appropriate as a genre I think. The RB, mainly the Artists, given a chance to shine. I also like the fact that in amongst the Artists were a couple of soloists and principals. Good for them to want to be part of this unique creation. Everything was brilliant. From the curtain lifting to darkness and then the shafts of light create an underworld feel. The drumming and Indian style music with the quiet but insistent mechanical beat in the background.. The drilled dancing at first, breaking up to chaos and then returning to exact union etc, The terrific costumes and make up. etc etc. But in the end it is the choreography and the execution of it that deserve the plaudits. Bravi bravi, I stood and cheered with everyone else in the Staff and Artists' seats at the General.
    I want to see this again and take my dance teacher (jazz and contemporary) who would applaud the RB for at last Dancing - not ballet "finally" he said when I raved to him about it this afternoon

  8. Natalie responded on 30 March 2015 at 10:39am Reply

    Loved the Balanchine & MacMillan ballets. Not my usual ballets but nevertheless interesting to watch. I will say though, Song of the Earth did feel very long (it's the longest ballet I've sat through without an interval), as it was quite stuffy in the Amphitheatre at this point. Both pieces were wonderfully danced by most & there was great emotion in Song. I didn't really know what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. Stand outs in the 4 T's were Edward Watson, Steven McRae & the ever wonderful Zenaida Yanowsky. I did think a few people were quite shaky, but I put this down to opening night nerves & the complex choreography.
    It was also great to see Carlos Acosta dance again.

    I suppose I may be in the minority for the Untouchable piece. I'm not usually a big fan of modern/contemporary dance as it is (i.e. the likes of McGregor) despite being of the age where people would assume I'd prefer modern over classic. I think this piece just went over my head (I didn't 'get' it really, if indeed there was anything to 'get'; I don't believe there was a plot or story). The music did have a great pulse, but that was it. I felt it dragged even more than the final MacMillan ballet, despite being half the length... There was a lot of jumping around & arm flailing & grunting towards the end which was fairly boring & seemingly standard for these types of pieces. It was great for a new work to be created on the artists though & it did look like fun to dance, but I didn't enjoy watching it. Someone somewhere described the costumes & hair as 'eco warrior', and I'm afraid I have to agree. Not for me, but judging by the reactions of others it was a success.

    Definitely the strangest evening I've had so far at the ROH. I look forward to seeing Song of the Earth again with a different cast in May.

  9. Nina Battleday responded on 30 March 2015 at 10:34pm Reply

    Ellen, my wish list, in no special order would include Two Pigeons, Shadowplay, Triad, Four Schumann Pieces, Les Niches, Cranko' s Brandenburgs 2 & 4, House of Birds, Macmillan' s 3 act Anastasia, which I know was not a critical success but which I enjoyed. And how about a revival of Images of Love for the Shakespeare celebrations next year? That will do for one season!

  10. Nina Battleday responded on 30 March 2015 at 11:53pm Reply

    Sorry, for orchestras Biches! Teach me to read before I send,!

  11. Nina Battleday responded on 30 March 2015 at 11:54pm Reply

    And still I haven't learnt! I mean Les Biches

  12. Charlie responded on 31 March 2015 at 9:15am Reply

    Star of the evening last night by a country mile was Beatriz Stix-Brunell, who had a perfect and unrivaled grip on the material in Untouchable.

    Balanchine and MacMillan were both lovely (as usual!)

  13. Jill Davis responded on 9 April 2015 at 12:43am Reply

    The Four Temperaments was disappointing, lacking beauty and artistry, and with choreography that failed to communicate. The Untouchables was unconventional and riveting. Everything from the set and costumes to the music and choreography spoke to me. Song of the Earth was technically perfect but the production values were bland. Altogether a beige evening at the ROH.

  14. Nick B responded on 11 April 2015 at 12:26pm Reply

    Thrilling evening last night. I love these mixed programmes. So brilliantly put together and performed!

  15. I have found myself many times recently in a ballet audience…a simple Wolverhampton girl brought up on Disco and Modern Dance why am I here so much recently?!! But with the recent trends of contemporary choreographers making themselves at home in the ballet world that it only seems fitting that I am more often finding myself here.
    Hofesh Shechter, Israeli but British based, is growing strength to strength and I see how current graduate dancers are coming out dancing in socks and curved backs that it only seems natural for Schechter to take his choreography to the Jerusalem of the British Dance World…The Royal Ballet.
    I am going to write about the Mixed Programme as how the evening should have ran: Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments, Kenneth McMillian’s Song of the Earth and of course Hofesh Shechter’s Untouchable. I was very pleased with the Opera’s House programming of the evening with both a contemporary and ballet crowd to please it must had been a difficult choice. There was, sorry if I offend either Shechter or Balanchine, similar choreographic tactics between them both. The way groups of dancers came in and out of each other, the use of breaking hand lines? Also both Balanchine and McMillian pieces used flexed feet and broken lines that that any contemporary fan can appreciate. But it infuriated me how Shechter was in the middle. Just as I had been taken to a dark place where I felt I wanted to lose my thoughts I was taken to a comical, love piece of McMillan…I felt thrown off?!
    Balanchine’s The Four Temperaments was performed flawlessly by the Royal Ballet. The dancers held up to the strength and precision of their American counterparts. I loved the tangled duets in which soloists were both caught up within but also the feeling of “I shouldn’t be here”…a very relatable theme. For me both Steve McRae and Melissa Hamilton stole the show, they were the ones who really emitted any humanistic feeling to the piece. McRae’s powerful but juicy solo made me want to be a ballet dancer!
    Kenneth McMillian’s Song of the Earth was too long, thank goodness for Carlos Acosta swift entrances and exits or else I may have exited myself. There was a clever play on comedy with dancers appearing if they were swimming and again clever choreographic moments of groups coming in and out of each other. But yet this playful piece followed Shechter, my brain was too busy processing Shechter’s grit to take too much notice. I was pleased that Carlos Acosta, although not the height of his ballet technicality, has become much more of a “dancer”…a mover.
    Hofesh Shechter’s Untouchable was untouchable, well mainly because I was at the cheap seats at the back but also due to the excellent lighting design by Lee Curran. After the piece I heard many audience members moan about “I couldn’t see the dancing, was too dark” “what was with the blackout”. I disagree with these remarks; the piece was lit beautifully, and the lights added to the mystery of the piece, the fact the dancers needed to be “outsiders”. I believe art and dance should not “reveal” itself immediately and this was achieved wonderfully through Curran’s lighting. Furthermore I liked the blackout, reminded me I was in a movie where on the screen would be “10 years later” or even in a haunted movie you didn’t know at what approach the “outsiders” were coming from. The blackout gave me time to reflect on the music, the powerful violin driven live orchestral music that fluctuated between Middle Eastern vibes of prayer moans to the drum percussion of china to drawn out violins of eastern Europe. I felt I was taken around the world with the music. I was pleased to read afterwards that Shechter and Composer Nell Catchpole had composed the music prior to the choreography, what a great step out of Shechter’s comfort zone that would have been.
    The dance started differently even before the dance started: the famous red royal curtain of the Royal Opera House was lifted rather than split to the sides, definitely an outsider was going to step onto the stage. The dance started in darkness, smoke filled the stage as the dancers walked forward in perfect symmetry into a box of light…they commanded the light. The dancers clasped their hands, jolted into strong warrior positions and in true Shechter style…flicked their hands. There was an almost “we are now in control” from the younger dancers of the Royal Ballet with their hand claps commanding lighting changes and section changes. I disagreed with a fellow audience member when she said “was just like all his other stuff”. The Ballet dancers either didn’t quite get the style of Shechter or were allowed to stand more upright than his own dancers. This gave a whole new feeling, less animalistic and more combatant soldiers. I really enjoyed seeing Shechters’ work performed in tight unison. I am not saying that Hofesh Shechter dancers are “out of time” but his dancers are more individualistic but the Ballet dancers performed and danced as one. You saw Shechter’s gooey, oozy nature move across the stage in groups of dancers and they came as one.
    There was, for me, reference to the separation of Ballet to contemporary. The dancers stood in lines upstage and slowly moved into obvious ballet positions from “preparation step” and “fifth position with arms in fourth” as three dancers were like making “gorilla” sounds as they darted around the stage. This blended into a moment that was like the dancers coming together before they all individually got the “contemporary dance bug” as they shifted, dived, rolled before returning to the start.
    The costumes were as dark as the dance itself with a mixture of grey/green outfits, individual to each dancer but still enough to unite the dancers into a corps de ballet. There was a huge cheer from the audience afterwards but whilst ear dropping on conversations, my favourite part of being a dance critique, the audience were unsure of what they had seen. One male audience member was very upset that he didn’t “understand the story”. But here we are the future of ballet, a contemporary dance take over. With big names such as Akram Khan and Hofesh Shechter choreographing on big Ballet companies and Choreographers like Sidi Larbi taking on Ballet director roles then this is the future. This makes me happy but then after reading an article about Michael Corder, British Ballet choreographer, his opinions on this subject area are right; how can choreographers with not so much background in ballet training be taking on these roles? He also goes onto comment that this contemporary take over is making ballet now seen as a “museum” piece (The Dancing Times, March 2015)
    But I think their un-comfortableness was a good sign, they were thinking about the piece, figuring it out, making transition into the future of dance where for myself I wasn’t “overwhelmed” as I normally am after a Hofesh Shechter piece but pleasantly intrigued “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable” (Banksy)

  16. Jane Harrison responded on 18 May 2015 at 11:47am Reply

    Re Shechter-the music and dancing was absolutely amazing and one of the best performances I have seen in a long while.. it reminds me a little of the Boris Eiffman ballet but is raw and open to so many interpretations. Incredible. It may not suit conservative ROH clientele but would bring in younger people I think as well as older who want to see something different and thought provoking. WOW!

  17. Ann Hughes Devereaux responded on 13 September 2015 at 10:27pm Reply

    i loved the Untouchables it was atmospheric moody, just wonderful. The darkness of the set as with the coustumes fitted it all well, It was inspirational! the music and the dancing. It was like being in a futuristic scene with the Untoucables saying we are here!! It was one of my favourite performances of 2015.

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