Review: Radio & Juliet, Faun, MсGregor + Mugler

'McGregor Mugler' featuring dancers Edward Watson and Olga Smirnova. Photo by Sasha Gusov

A Thrilling Triple Bill At The London Coliseum presented three works from acclaimed choreographers, performed by a cast of exceptional dancers from the world’s top ballet companies, and included a UK and world premiere. 

The evening opened with the UK premiere of Radio & Juliet by Edward Clug set to music and soundscape by Radio Head. As the curtain raised, a black and white film was projected onto the stage taking us on a voyeuristic journey into an apartment. As we enter, we seem to creep through the space, along a hallway to a bedroom that’s bare except for a mattress on the floor and a female body under a white sheet. This lengthy film introduces us to the piece that is firmly shot through the lens of the male gaze. Under the sheet an unknowing sleeping ballerina is revealed. It feels like an intrusion. Even as we follow her awake, it feels like we’ve stolen into her privacy as she wanders in underwear-like corset and briefs; she sits on a window ledge with her knees tightly drawn to her chest compressed into a corner as she stares off to the distance. These are intimate moments upon which we spy. And even at this early stage in the piece, the perspective and the narrative starts to feel uncomfortable.

Clug then walks six male dancers dressed in black suits with bare chests onto the stage, one by one they seem to be faceless, one dimensional carbon copy men simply cocksure, aggressive and competitive. Through a complex array of repetitive movements Clug creates a dynamic waltz-like wave of motion, punctuated by sharp fierce arms and strong legs kicked, striking and lashing out. The men repeat the themes in varying groups, they fight, they bond, they perform as pack. The SNG Maribor Ballet dancers were exceptional; they never missed a beat of Clug’s rapid fire, intricate foot and hand work, set to Radio Head’s sometimes ear-splitting sounds, poetic rap-like vocals and techno infused beats. The choreography is filled with wondrous movement echos and surrounded by blazes of light, giving the impression of a music video inspired show, with the music and the dance taking turns to dominate the stage. 

With so much music and impressive male movement, the question is where is Juliet? Performed flawlessly by English National Ballet First Soloist Katja Khaniukova, Clug’s Juliet is a superficial piece of sculptured beauty whose presence seems only for the purview of the male desire. Squeezed into a corset and wearing Brazilian knickers that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination (does she really need such skimpy pants?), Juliet seems to be subjected to the whims, attention and ravishing by the men. And while it may not have been Clug’s intention, I found the entire dynamic between Juliet and the men to be uncomfortable and at times offensive – there’s one particular disconcerting scene where Juliet is on her knees seemingly at an altar when another man puts a lemon in her mouth and practically uses it to drag her away still on her knees; I don’t know what this is supposed to represent, but it felt wrong. And while Clug creates some wonderful duets that showcases Khaniukova’s impressive technical skill, her fast footwork, flexible body and fabulous extensions, Juliet isn’t given much of an emotional range, until the end where apparently she has killed a man, but she doesn’t seem to feel vindicated, instead she comes across as emotionally conflicted as she silently screams. Khaniukova makes this an intense scene, filled with physically raw rage and an explosion of emotion. And perhaps this piece is meant to be a comment on toxic masculinity, but unfortunately there is no redemption for these shallow men, despite the death.

Throughout this piece I watched in awe of the choreography, wowed by the dancers, but confused, offended and uncomfortable with the narrative. I love Clug’s choreography, and I was certainly effected by this piece, but I don’t remember ever being so conflicted by a piece. 

'Radio and Juliet' performed by Stars of the Bolshoi. Photo by Maximov
‘Radio and Juliet’ performed by Stars of the Bolshoi. MuzArts Productions. Photo by Maximov

After such a challenging opening, Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun was a sweet, naive antidote with an acrobatic, gymnastic duo performed by Bolshoi Ballet principals Anastasia Stashkevich and Vaycheslav Lopatin. Cherkaoui created two young beings discovering their long limbs, their rippling bodies and their ever strengthening legs. With wonderful physical contact between the two dancers, the fauns play with curiosity and joy, there’s multiple back bends, roll overs, and contortion inspired twisted torsos and entwined legs. Set to a forest backdrop, this wonderful and short piece brought happiness through intricate and well balanced movements performed with a delicate strength and generous emotion.

Faun. Photo by B.Annadurdyev
Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Faun. MuzArts Productions. Photo by B. Annadurdyev

The last piece of the evening featured the world premiere of the collaboration between renowned choreographer Wayne McGregor and infamous fashion designer Thierry Mugler. Simply entitled McGregor + Mugler, this piece is a dazzling sci-fi styled pas de deux performed by incredible Bolshoi Ballet prima ballerina Olga Smirnova and Royal Ballet principal Edward Watson dressed in shimming gold and silver body suits, adorned with striking head pieces and body wear. The classical pas de deux showed off Smirnova’s super extensions, her fast footwork and perfect command of her body and together with Watson, they enhanced the robotic movements in the spectacular creations by Mugler and highlighted by streaming and bot like lighting by the uber talented lighting designer Lucy Carter. With each lift, dip and spin, Mugler’s creations made the movement explode into rays of light. A stylish piece that fuses high end creative design, music, light and movement that impressed the audience.

'McGregor Mugler' featuring dancers Edward Watson and Olga Smirnova. Photo by Sasha Gusov
‘McGregor Mugler’ featuring dancers Edward Watson and Olga Smirnova. MuzArts Productions. Photo by Sasha Gusov

Reviewed 7 December 2019