There's a inherent thread that links Wayne McGregor’s Raven Girl and Alastair Marriott’s Connectome, which the Royal Ballet brings together in a neoclassical double bill. Both pieces are about women, their dreams and the challenges they face throughout their lives.

Connectome. Lauren Cuthbertson © ROH, 2015 | Photographed by Bill Cooper
Connectome. Lauren Cuthbertson
© ROH, 2015 | Photographed by Bill Cooper

Inspired by the works of MIT scientist Sebastian Seung, Marriott explores with Connectome the communication processes that allow humans to build social networks and develop their identity. The piece focuses on a female character (Lauren Cuthbertson) and the different connections she establishes with the male figures in the piece, metaphors for the men in her life. A sequence of short lyrical duets and pas de trois marked by travelling portés shows that, albeit central to the story, the woman sometimes loses control over the other characters. Interestingly, she also seems to exert a strong influence over the masculine pas de deux, which suggests that her power transcends her physical presence. It seems it would be better for the audience if Marriott’s elegant choreography was to open the programme, rather than to be programmed after McGregor’s piece. And although precision is of utmost importance in this elegant work, it would have been a treat to see the dancers less concerned with perfecting the steps and more absorbed by the feelings sparked on by the multiple encounters that Seung studied. 

Based on a graphic novel by the American artist Audrey Niffenegger’s, McGregor's Raven Girl is choreographic proof that fairy tales can still inspire narrative ballets, even in the 21st century. Looking like a Japanese cartoon character, a brunette Sarah Lamb plays the child of an unlikely relationship between a postman – Edward Watson, in a very poetic interpretation – and a raven (Olivia Cowley). Her soul is bound to fly, but limited by her human condition. The piece is about the pursuit of a dream, and the events that enfold once the dream turns into reality.

Lamb understands the nuances of the character and embraces the contradictions of the protagonist’s personality: stubborn but delicate, determined but dreamy, independent yet respectful of her parents. The harmony of the family is shown in a playful pas de trois and in the dance scenes around the bed, flooded with letters to be delivered by the father, while an ounce of tension between the powerful mother and her daughter adds a layer of complexity to the characters' relationship. These are not inherently good or bad, but demonstrative of the creatures' aspirations and limitations – as seen for example in the girl’s funny and frustrating attempts to fly either by climbing on chairs piled up on a table, or by waving her arms as she goes into a neat, long-lined sharp arabesque. But Raven Girl differs from traditional ballet fables like Swan Lake – though it is here nearly impossible not to think of Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan when Lamb beats the large dark wings 'implanted' in her body by an unconventional scientist (Thiago Soares). Indeed, the transformation of the central character is not imposed on the young girl by a spell, but desired and pursued by her. The modern fairy tale has a conventional happy ending, where the raven girl finally meets her prince charming, and together they live happily ever after.

The projection of text extracts on a transparent screen that separates the stage from the audience, as well as the images of ravens flying high in the sky evoke Tim Burton’s work, which adds a fantastic and romantic note to the piece. But the concern with explaining every detail of the story to the audience (carried by the hand), seems excessive: fewer visual effects and props would have left more room for the remarkable technical and artistic qualities of the dancers. 

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