Ballet review: Polaris and The Age of Anxiety

Barbara Newman reviews two new productions.

Polaris in rehearsal. Photography: Chris Randle

Now you see it, now you don’t. At Covent Garden, The Royal Ballet has produced a mixed program, including a world première, that will vanish after six performances. At Sadler’s Wells, the four new dances celebrating Thomas Adès’ music came and went in three nights.

If a company is lucky, its latest novelty will arrive in a blaze of publicity, but all too often the work vanishes before the last echo of applause has died away. So if you’re curious, you have to be quick.

The best of the Adès evening, which was titled with Balanchine’s well-known words “See the Music, Hear the Dance,” emerged from one of Sadler’s Wells’ Associate Artists, Crystal Pite, whose daring group work Polaris gave body and soul to the composer’s driving sonorous score. An anonymous black-clad crowd, six professional dancers plus nearly 60 students from the London Contemporary Dance School and the Central School of Ballet, surged across the stage in waves, freezing suddenly in configurations as balanced as architecture, then flowing like the tide or a restless mob. Simplicity itself, richly textured and precisely detailed, Polaris revived the long-lost power of physical mass and musical clarity in contemporary choreography.

Liam Scarlett’s eighth work for The Royal Ballet, The Age of Anxiety draws its edgy urban atmosphere, jazzy tone and sexual urgency straight from Leonard Bernstein’s eponymous score. Four strangers meet by chance in a seedy New York bar; the woman invites the men home for more booze and flirtation. By dawn, a casual couple has formed, and the youngest loner is eager for fresh adventures.

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Tristan Dyer in the Age of Anxiety. Photography: Bill Cooper / ©ROH

Tristan Dyer in the Age of Anxiety. Photography: Bill Cooper / ©ROH

Boldly tailoring classical ballet to tell a modern story, Mr. Scarlett has created complex characters and a riveting uneasy drama. Released from the deliberate impersonality of the abstract repertory, the avid dancers let loose on the romance and anger in their compelling roles and brought down the house, with good reason, on opening night.

The Royal Ballet triple bill remains at Covent Garden until 17 November.

Liam Scarlett will create a new work for New York City Ballet in May.

Crystal Pite will return to Sadler’s Wells with a new creation, 5-8 February.

Phoenix Dance Theatre presents new work by Darshan Singh Bhuller and Christopher Bruce in the Linbury Studio Theatre, 25-29 November.

Rambert Dance Company tours Mark Baldwin’s latest creation,The Strange Charm of Mother Nature, until 22 November, and opens Shobana Jeyasingh’s new Terra Incognita at Sadler’s Wells, 18-22 November.