International Draft Works

Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House, London
April 10, 2024

Draft Works was a short evening with plenty of variety, as ten choreographers, mostly still dancers themselves, were given the space to experiment. It seems only right that dancers should explore the art they love and try creating their own works. Full marks to creative producer Emma Southworth for finding such a breadth of talent with creatives from Korea and right across Europe.

Each piece was given a performance at top professional level and was worth watching but the gap between dance that is pleasant to watch and something that stirs the emotions and leaves a strong impression is quite a leap and a vital distinction.

For sheer beauty, Moonlight by Florent Melac, danced with Clémence Gross from the Paris Ópera had my vote. A ballet pas de deux danced to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. So what’s new? But this was. Simply clothed in soft fabrics, the fluid movements flowed in choreography that created a vision of two parts of one body, it was a thing of beauty.

Korean National Ballet trio Byeol Kim, Hyunkyu Lee
and choreographer Youngcheol Lee in Season ; Spring
Photo Son Jail

Similarly, but with an Eastern flavour was Season ; Spring from the Korean National Ballet. The attention to detail was impressive. The music was by Bora Ju and played side stage by the composer, the stage design, a simple white circle which created the dance area for exquisitely dressed Byeol Kim. Alongside her, two men, Hyunkyu Lee and choreographer, Youngcheol Lee, initially kept distance on the periphery before coming together in unison. The language was classical ballet but particularly in the extravagant use of arms there were hints of an older tradition interpreted in a new way.

From the Norwegian National Ballet, dancer Lucas Lima choreographed Andromedae for Eugenie Skilnand and Xander Parish. Set to Samual Barber’s haunting Adagio for Strings it captured the idea of rising and falling stars in sweeping high lifts. Well structured and sensitively phrased it was given an excellent performance with the added pleasure of seeing Parish back in London where he was a former member of the Royal Ballet.

A pointe duet with more bite was Matthew Ball’s To & Fro which he danced with Mayara Magri, both from the Royal Ballet. The interesting, somewhat quirky costumes were designed by Megan Hall, with Magri’s a particularly stylish design. The theme of a pendulum didn’t always follow through, but adventurous double work held attention, and it had a neat ending with the gentle rocking of two heads in a close embrace.

Choreographer Nicola Wills and Philipe Lens
in Two People in Love Never Shake Hands
Photo courtesy Royal Opera House

Olmo Verbeeck Martínez dancing with Anri Sugiura, both from Semperoper Ballett in Dresden, created Ignored but not Withstood. The focus was love but it struggled to find a new way to tell an old tale despite a strong performance.

Nicola Wills of Opera Ballet Vlaanderen used the poetry of Yoko Ono to find their title, Two People in Love Never Shake Hands, and also to create a interesting subtext to an engaging work. Casually dressed, the dancers Philipe Lens and Wills herself, chose a more contemporary style. The contact was intimate, physically and emotionally, and very real. As the relationship unravels and tension grows the couple separate after a handshake.

Tetra by Lachlan Monaghan
Photo Andre Uspenski/ROH

Another interesting work came from Birmingham Royal Ballet. Lachlan Monaghan’s Tetra, to music by Robert Schumann, featured company dancers Jack Easton, Rosanna Ely, Tom Hazelby and Tessa Hogge. Black suited figures, the women on pointe, danced with fire and found something interesting to say. It’s a work that deserves developing.

Madeline Squire’s Liminal Goodbye brought Scottish Ballet dancers Harvey Evans, Marge Henrick and Benjamin Thomas to London. With no lighting designer credited, it nevertheless featured many and varied changes in colour and intensity, distracting from the dance. There was innovative floor work and gestural positioning that became lost in the gimmicky lighting. This is a work that might look better stripped down and given a simpler presentation.

The National Theatre Brno presented Barbora Rašková’s Act Naturally. She bravely attempted a humorous work which had its moments, but good comedy is never easy. However, it was an entertaining light-hearted piece given committed performances by Adam Baštař, Valentin Domsa, Rashmi Torres and Joshua Williams.

A work that investigated genuinely new ways of moving was Joseph Toonga’s New Work. Royal Ballet dancers, Olivia Findlay and Nadia Mullova-Barley had feet dancing on satin pointes while torsos were in punchy street mode. It’s an idea worth workshopping further but still seems to need a focus for expression.

It’s a brave move for dancers to take on the role of choreographer and show their work to a public audience. It also entails finding time and energy in busy schedules. These artists may not all end up earning a living as choreographers but the value of developing creativity cannot be underestimated. Congratulations all round.