Raven Girl (and a bit of Connectome): The Royal Ballet

As you may have guessed from the title, this review is not going to focus equally on each half of the Royal Ballet’s autumn double bill. It’s not because I’m lazy, but because I’ve seen (and reviewed) Connectome very recently – and I don’t want to bore you guys.

So: Raven Girl. Wayne McGregor’s collaboration with Audrey Niffeneger is a dark, contemporary fairytale that begins with a postman falling in love with a raven. Their offspring, Raven Girl (Sarah Lamb), is caught between human and animal worlds – the ballet’s main narrative follows her quest for acceptance and happiness. Unfortunately, the story is sometimes hard to follow and details are lost – it’s not clear why Raven Girl leaves her parents, how she meets the Raven Prince, or how the postman’s letters are related to events. There’s also rather too much changing of location, meaning more time is spent on setting the scene than anything else. But the narrative is still strong, with moments of romance, comedy and nightmare supported by Gabriel Yared’s stark, minimalist score.

Raven Girl’s struggle to grow and find her identity is the driving force of the piece. Initially, her movements are awkward and off kilter, but once she gains her enormous wings – a highly impressive sight when they are first wheeled on in a glass case – she dances with strength and assurance. No mean feat when you have a 5ft feather wing strapped to each arm, but Sarah Lamb of course makes it look easy.

Visually, Raven Girl is stunning – a beautiful monochrome world of light and shade – and Ravi Deepres’ projected video designs really complete this production. When the Raven Girl is about to be born, we see a nest being ‘built’ twig by twig onscreen, and an egg appear and then crack. A handful of dancers onstage waving fabric banners – which creates the sound of beating wings very effectively – become an entire flock of ravens with the help of projected film. The ravens’ choreography is excellent overall – they swirl around the stage as if borne on air currents, and twitch their heads and feet with the nervous energy of birds.

It’s never easy to convey anything non-human via a medium that is all about communicating with the human body, but this production manages it: the video design, the impressive props, the choreography – and a little circus. The final pas de deux is not only the strongest, most involving section of dance in the whole ballet, but also features aerial choreography. Raven Girl has met and fallen in love with the Raven Prince (a dashing Eric Underwood), and as a conclusion to their dance, they rise up over the stage on an aerial hoop in a beautiful, blissful moment of freedom.

As for Connectome, I enjoyed it far more on my second viewing. This could be for three reasons:

  1. I knew exactly what to expect. That can always help.
  2. Instead of following one of my all-time favourites – Ashton’s iridescent, comical The Dream – Connectome follows a ballet that it has a lot more in common with in terms of choreography, style and emotional tone.
  3. Lauren Cuthbertson is dancing the central female role. I know, I saw Natalia Osipova last time and raved about her technique – but Lauren Cuthbertson is very different. She brings elegance and emotional depth, really connecting with the abstract choreography and bringing it to life.

I still don’t get the singing face though.

Rubbish picture of my view - from a box. Ho yes.
Rubbish picture of my view – from a box. Ho yes.
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