MoveTube: Sarah Lamb, Federico Bonelli and the new balletic language

In this clip of a detached duet from Wayne McGregor's Chroma you can clearly see the classical roots beneath his modern style

Last week we watched a clip of Yuri Soloviev, the Kirov dancer, and the link with this week's clip of Sarah Lamb and Federico Bonelli of the Royal Ballet is Tatiana Legat. Married to Soloviev until his tragic death in 1977, Legat moved to the US and was Lamb's teacher at Boston Ballet School. Italian-born Bonelli, meanwhile, trained in Turin. Both dancers joined the Royal Ballet in 2003.

The clip is taken from a performance of Chroma, choreographed for the Royal by Wayne McGregor in 2006. At first sight, Lamb and Bonelli appear to be performing a duet (in ballet-speak, a pas de deux). We look, instinctively, for clues to their relationship. We find that for all the exquisitely tuned physical rapport, their eyes never meet. He looks at her in order to lift and place her, but it's an emotionally neutral kind of looking. Her detached gaze suggests she may be in another dimension altogether. What this adds up to is for you, the spectator, to decide. As McGregor constantly emphasises, there's no fixed meaning to his work.

McGregor comes from a contemporary dance background and the Royal dancers are classically trained, but you can see here what each has taken from the other. The classical vocabulary exists in McGregor's work in the same way Latin exists in present-day Italian. Watch this clip of the Soviet ballerina Maya Plisetskaya in Laurentia, filmed in 1959, and note her flamboyant leaps between 0:40 and 0:52. Lamb's first move at 0:12 is essentially the same step, but in ghost form. And the angled rotation through which Bonelli guides her between 0:27 and 0:32 is like a fossilised version of the final bars of the Swan Lake second act pas de deux. This is not to say that these are calculated references, but in Chroma the dancers contributed to the choreographic process, and certain steps are imprinted on ballet dancers' minds and bodies.

The extreme, hyperextended line Lamb displays at 1:29 and 2:04 is characteristic of McGregor's work. Hyperextension (here's the French ballerina Sylvie Guillem showing off her "six o'clock legs") is a controversial issue in classical ballet – some love it, some consider it unharmonious – but modern ballet demands super-flexibility. As Lamb and Bonelli demonstrate, the new balletic language has a tense, mysterious beauty entirely its own. But no art comes from nowhere. In the right light, the bones of the old are always visible beneath the skin of the new.

Contributor

Luke Jennings

The GuardianTramp

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