In past ages dance had a very fashionable focus. As the prime opportunity to show off new trends and purchases, masques at the Tudor and Stuart courts gave eager movers and shakers the arena to flaunt their sartorial savvy - opulent knees-ups where only the priciest, cutting edge costumes would do. Wayne McGregor’s Carbon Life at the Royal Opera House is bringing that trend right back.
The piece - currently on show in a trilogy alongside the minimal Polyphonia and macabre Sweet Violets - has been met with resounding critical acclaim. With costumes from Gareth Pugh and music led by famed cool-kid Mark Ronson with vocals from legend Boy George, as well as The Kills’ Alison Mosshart and rapper Black Cobain, this dance masterpiece was always going to make a splash. But who could predict the outcome - a genuinely pioneering performance that appeared to break all the boundaries of ballet? From the lighting to the choreography, this was a true showstopper.
Pugh's costumes were flawless. Opening with the dancers clad in nude underwear masked by a translucent screen, they appeared to twinkle like naked fireflies by a light. Twirling Tinkerbells, the outstanding abilities of there bodies was aided, rather than overshadowed by Pugh. As with his Tudor predecessors, Pugh's version of dance was a lesson in getting dressed. As the ballet progressed so too did the costumes, becoming more elaborate with every pirouette. Starting with the simple addition of a pair of black shorts (who needs anything else when the star of your show is fifteen perfectly toned ballerinas gyrating in arrowhead formation?) and closing with the eventual addition of Pugh's signature styles - angular headpieces and sleeves, reminiscent of our very own In Your Face Stealth Bomber. Androgyny was key throughout - from the flesh-coloured bras worn by female dancers, giving the illusion that all the ballerinas were statuesque genderless beings, to the tutus and boots worn by male dancers in the later pieces - Pugh's outfits forced you to focus only on the movement and gymnastic potentialities of the human bodies on stage, unable to distinguish man from woman.
It was the closing number that really stole the show. Huge lit-up shapes appeared on the floor - reminiscent of a nightclub - illuminating the performance. The piece was meticulous, but also haphazard, dancers seemed to be moving as one would on a Soho dance-floor, dancing both alone and in pairs, wandering freely on and off the stage - a strangely apt vision given Pugh's own penchant for clubwear as well as the addition of club-favourites Boy George and Ronson bopping along in the background. The whole message seemed to be that ballet, like pumped-up club dancing, can be raw, carefree and sexy.
Club-ambiance aside, there's subtlety to the piece. Themes of love, youth, desire, lust are all served up. McGregor's play on carbon chauvinism - the title Carbon Life references the fact that carbon forms the crux of biology for most of life on earth - couldn't be more apt, this was showing that ballet, like carbon, should be everywhere. Set free to pervade all aspects of life and culture, whether fashion, rap, or pop. Deservedly met by a resounding standing ovation, Pugh, Ronson and McGregor have proved themselves the new Lords of The Dance. Get tickets here!