The triple bill has long been a staple of the ballet agenda at the Royal Opera House and so it is unusual for the first such programme to come so late in the season. This selection followed a typical formula comprising something new, something borrowed and the revival of an earlier work; opening with the world premiere of The Weathering by American choreographer, Kyle Abraham, followed by Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo (originally made ten years’ ago for Nederlands Dans Theater and brought into the Covent Garden repertoire in 2021) and completed by the long-awaited return of Christopher Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse, which premiered on an unforgettable evening in November 2006, alongside Wayne McGregor’s Chroma (one of the great opening nights of the past twenty years).   

Fumi Kaneko in The Weathering
© ROH | Andrej Uspenski

Pite and Wheeldon are uppermost in the current generation of international choreographers and on this evidence, whilst already well established, Abraham lacks their consistency of output and has yet to forge his own unique style. The Weathering, while enjoyable in many ways, is a sort of Tupperware ballet – open the plastic lid and out pops a diverse range of movement that, although recently created, is not particularly fresh. At times it seemed like a ‘Ballet 101’ compendium of movements, randomly connected and not always aligned with the music, a sequence of nine pieces by Ryan Lott that were intended to render feelings of life, vitality and a sense of loss. I suspect that it is music that needs to be heard a few times to be fully appreciated.

Abraham’s piece was minimalist in concept and design, beginning on a bare stage with the dancers configured among ten lanterns of varying sizes; these were then pulled up above the stage and added to by other lights coming from the flies until there was at least double the number. In the absence of any other stage design, it was a cost-effective way to provide a sense of theatre. Karen Young’s costume designs were significant; soft, flowing chiffon dresses for the two women, pastel coloured shirts for nine men.

Calvin Richardson in The Weathering
© ROH | Andrej Uspenski

This 35-minute work – the longest of the night – was a traditional mix of solos, duets and ensemble sections, with a refreshing disregard for heteronormative partnering. The best of the work came in two duets: a sombre male pairing of Joseph Sissens and Calvin Richardson and a passionate pas de deux for William Bracewell and Fumi Kaneko. Anna Rose O’Sullivan (replacing Natalia Osipova, out with Covid) rattled through a vigorous solo, spinning like a child’s toy set on maximum, and the work closed with another soft romantic solo, performed by Joshua Junker. Although I was not immediately won over by Abraham’s piece, it has a certain aesthetic that may become more memorable after subsequent viewings.

This was certainly true of Pite’s Solo Echo, which made a markedly superior impression on me in this iteration than it had at The Royal Ballet’s premiere last year (alongside Pite’s The Statement, which garnered the lion’s share of approval back then). Decoupled from that other work, Solo Echo is just as memorable in its own right; melancholic, moody movement poetry, performed against a never-ending snowstorm and with Pite’s choreography nailed on to beautiful music extracted from Brahms' two cello sonatas. The organic connections between her small team of seven dancers are beautifully crafted, creating shifting shape structures that provided indelible imagery. The ending, as each dancer stood in single file facing the audience, one-by-one slipping out of the encircling arms of the dancer behind, finally leaving a single lonely performer on stage, was a breathtaking finale and, at just 25 minutes, Pite leaves her audience wanting more.

The Royal Ballet in Crystal Pite's Solo Echo
© ROH | Andrej Uspenski

Wheeldon’s DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse is an outstanding example of integrated creativity in which all the artistic elements – choreography, music, design and lighting – add up to something more than the sum of their parts. Wheeldon was inspired by Michael Nyman’s eponymous score, composed in 1993 to commemorate the extension of the train à grande vitesse (TGV) and his choreography embodies Nyman’s music in the movement of four central couples supported by an ensemble of 18 other dancers. Jonathan Lo conducted the orchestra with the intensity that Nyman’s music demands.

Matthew Ball and Gina Storm-Jensen in DGV: Danse à Grand Vitesse
© ROH | Andrej Uspenski

Each of the four pas de deux is a distinct section of a journey, perhaps illuminating different facets of the exterior landscape rattling past the windows, from the languorous feel of the countryside to the urgency of an urban sprawl. Wheeldon is a master of maintaining momentum and this is a great example of that craft, including the counter-intuitive oasis of silence in the midst of Nyman’s celebration of speed. This dynamic is greatly enhanced by Jean-Marc Puissant’s dramatic set that suggests (in the structural form of lightweight mesh) the notion of mangled metal, ripped up by this explosion of danse à grande vitesse