Mr Worldly Wise.
The title of Mr Worldly Wise, Twyla Tharp's first work for a British company, refers to the composer Rossini, whose life inspired the three-act ballet and whose music provides its score. The names for the principal characters have echoes of Pilgrim's Progress: the ballet is more allegory than biography, charting the phases of an artist's life from worldly success (and excess) through abstinence to peace and paradise.
Although the three acts are very different from each other, they are constructed much like a nineteenth-century ballet--a homage to the Royal Ballet's heritage that disconcerted spectators anticipating a modern ballet. The curtains open to reveal a shock-haired man in tatters hauling a heavily laden sack. He is Irek Mukhomedov as Rossini, dragging his cultural baggage and the next generation, in the shape of his apprentice (Tetsuya Kumakawa), behind him. Maybe Mukhomedov also represents Mistress World Weary--the choreographer herself, encumbered by thirty years' experience and the expectations of audiences.
The first act is an extended series of divertissements to early Rossini overtures. The corps de ballet represents Parisian socialites and characters from Rossini's operas whose costumes (by David Roger) become more and more extravagant as Mr WW hurls himself into a nervous breakdown, trying to prove to his sidekick, Master Bring-the-Bag, that he is still Number One. The audience is required to take a great deal on trust (having read the copious program notes in advance), since the relationships among the central characters are neither explained nor developed.
Act II is the traditional vision scene, in the realm of Mistress Truth-on-Toe (Darcey Bussell). She kas wafted through Act I like a sylphide or bayadere; now she becomes Terpsichore, while Mr WW sits to one side, awaiting enlightenment. Bussell, who can be gloriously bold, seemed constrained in the opening performances, too tense to play with the decorously academic choreography to Rossini's piano studies. Transparent though her dancing is, she risked being outshone by a dazzling quartet Deborah Bull and Leanne Benjamin with Stuart Cassidy and William Trevitt) moving across the stage to a ground bass of funky corps dancers.
The choreography contains more than a kint of Balanchine and of Ashton's Symphonic Varictions. An early reviewer of that ballet in 1946 described Ashton's work as "a kind of heavenly tennis"--and Tharp's white-clad dancers look as though they are enjoying a game of Royal tennis. Mukhamedov is not allowed to join in until the last moment, when he finds his place within their symmetrical ranks, dancing to Bussell's tune but unable to touch her.
He is rewarded in Act III, when, after searching for her among clusters of Parisians promenading in a Seurat-like park, he finally partners her in a grand pas de deux. It is not much of a climax, for Bussell is too much of an armful for Mukhamedov to handle. However, having taught him how to live in the world, she prepares him for the leaving of it. An apotheosis is imminent, but Mr WW has a last world-forsaking solo before he is free to go. Master Bring-the-Bag inherits the bag, and the demons that come with it.
Tharp pull; the drawstrings tight, but the three acts do not cohere convincingly into a ballet. Although she has responded to the particular qualities of the Royal Ballet's dancers, Mukhamedov and Kumakawa only become fully themselves as performers at the very end. Tharp's main energies have gone into the second act, which, exhilarating though it is, never quite achieves liftoff, underpowered by Rossini's piano music. The production has provoked sharply divided responses--and a sold-out box office.
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|Title Annotation:||Royal Opera House, London, England|
|Article Type:||Dance Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 1996|
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