Problems in Paradise: ‘Raven Girl’ Royal Opera House, second performance

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It probably would seem like Paradise to have Wayne McGregor choreograph a new fairy tale by Audrey Niffennegger, to music especially created by Gabriel Yared ,to a film design by Ravi Deepres. But with the proverbial saying in mind, ‘Too many cooks spoil the broth’, Paradise became a sort of gallimaufry.

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This is the story of a country postman:

‘One day he has to deliver a

letter with an unusual address

Dripping Rock, Raven’s Nest

When he gets there he finds a

young Raven.  She has fallen from the nest.’

‘The postman takes her to his

home and cares for her.

They fall in love and marry.

Some time passes and they

have an egg.

The egg hatches and the

parents discover a perfect baby girl.’

‘But  as she grows, The Raven Girl

is uneasy: she can’t speak, she

only squawks.

And although she tries very

assiduously, she cannot fly. She

has no wings.’  (Audrey Niffennegger)

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The aquatint’s of Niffennegger to illustrate her tale are beautiful and could have informed the ballet design.  It also seems to me that with the dimension of film animation and filmed text which had an etherial quality, it was not necessary to have any sets at all. The sets were earth bound, heavy, more appropriate to a production of ‘Prometheus Bound’. I felt the sets were like a boulder dropped into a bird’s nest. The costumes didn’t work.  Less would definitely have been more. The dance and the animation would have been enough.

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The film designs by Ravi Deepres  (and the animation) were ravishing and provided spaces which the dancers disappointingly never entered. If this was about flying, the animation flew while the choreography, sometimes beautiful, was sometimes absolutely stolid and stuck. In a comparison, in ‘Desh’ , Akram Khan enters the animation and once is suspended upside down from the top of the stage:

with Sylvie Guillem:

The Chimeras in ‘Raven Girl’. perhaps, should have been animated. Instead their choreography was under- lighted and amateurish.

The resolution for the daughter’s ‘no wings’ was rather like a gothic  novel, such as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’.The production from that point on lacked clarity and visual  excitement.

Considering that the score was especially composed for this piece, it sounded somewhat commercial and unimaginative. Perhaps, ‘Raven Girl’ should not have had a score as such, but rather  sounds or even silence. If you are going to experiment with animation, the dance has to be integrated within it. It is important to bring the different disciplines to one focal point. An artist I know suggested that the ballet, too, should have been on film with film’s possibilities.

There is so much that is creative here, but it needs to go back to the drawing board.

Wayne McGregor is quite analytical. Yet, if something should work, it just may not.

The unachieved potential of this ballet has provoked much discussion and conjecture.

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