It's that time of year where poppies begin to adorn our lapels and war memorials, that time when attention turns to our fallen ancestors and we remember, both privately and publicly.

Christina Arestis and Marcelino Sambé in <i>Ceremony of Innocence</i> © ROH, 2014. ph: Bill Cooper
Christina Arestis and Marcelino Sambé in Ceremony of Innocence
© ROH, 2014. ph: Bill Cooper
This year of all years, as the crimson ocean of poppies draws meditative crowds at the Tower of London, marking the centenary of the outbreak of the war that was supposed to be the war to end all wars; the Royal Ballet presents a programme of new and recent contemporary work that feels, appropriately, grave. The shadow of the twentieth century continues to shape our world, and this programme, with works of contemporary key artists, gives a message of optimism in the face of a darkened world.

Ceremony of Innocence, a 2013 piece by Kim Brandstrup created in memory of Benjamin Britten, focused heavily on the loss of youth. Christina Arestis and Edward Watson brooded on the impish figure of Marcelino Sambé, cavorting brightly as the innocent of the title. And yet I found that the emotional punch of the work never quite came. Perhaps this feeling was amplified by projections that shifted between dilapidated brickwork lending an appropriate impression of a world that is weary of existing, and distracting digital waves that seemed frankly, as relevant as my screensaver.

The second piece in the evening is a world première by Liam Scarlett's . Set on Bernstein Symphony inspired by Auden's poem of the same name, The Age of Anxiety was more overtly narrative than the other pieces on the programme. The ballet’s strength lies in the vivid creation of characters who exists as types and abstractions for Auden. Scarlett has brought flesh and blood onto these personas, each of them looking like people who are dancing rather than dancers, which always assists in the suspension of disbelief in narrative dance. A naturalistic set by John Macfarlane helped, with tilting walls and lurid red lighting signalling a detour into the unconscious world of dream.

S. McRae, L. Morera, T. Dyer, B. Gartside and K. Emerton in <i>The Age of Anxiety</i> © ROH - ph: Bill Cooper
S. McRae, L. Morera, T. Dyer, B. Gartside and K. Emerton in The Age of Anxiety
© ROH - ph: Bill Cooper
 Bennet Garside was a strong presence and sure looked like a man who knows his way around a bar, while Steven McRae darted around like quicksilver in a naval uniform, attracting interest from all directions. Laura Morera provided the vulnerable femininity that helped us empathize. One of the most arresting images of the evening was the final moments of this piece, as Tristan Dyer emerged onto the streets of Manhattan, with Bernstein’s symphony crashing around him and quite literally – in what was perhaps a nod to a storytelling trope of Auden’s adopted home, walked off into the sunset.

Wheeldon's Aeternum, set to Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia Da Requiem (which enjoys its first revival in this programme of remembrance) had undertones of ritual and sacrifice that brought to mind much of the fiercely pacifist poetry of the trenches. A set that reminded me of heaped bones, or perhaps the barbed wire that is so emblematic of the First World War gave a layer of elegy, and their removal in the final section lent a mysticism that was unexpectedly moving.

Marianela Nuñez in <i>Aeternum</i> © ROH / Johan Persson, 2013
Marianela Nuñez in Aeternum
© ROH / Johan Persson, 2013
The ending was an intriguing echo of the previous two pieces, with Marianela Nunez and Federico Bonelli drifting off to an unknown light. If it was Death that took her, it was a gentler one than we think of amidst the fields of poppies.

The aspect of remembrance of the evening was implicit rather than overt, the tone sombre rather than grief stricken. The times that Auden wrote of are gone, but well might our own time be called an age of anxiety, and so these lines still seem particularly pertinent: "We would rather be ruined than changed/we would rather die in our dread/than climb the cross of the moment/ and let our illusions die."(Auden)