Royal Ballet mixed bill – review

Royal Opera House, London
Wayne McGregor's new meditation on classical music's master of mathematics is Bach by numbers

Wayne McGregor is one of the most intellectually curious of dance-makers, and it was surely just a matter of time before he opted to choreograph the intricate musical mathematics of JS Bach. Tetractys: The Art of Fugue is set to orchestrated extracts of Bach's experimental masterpiece – and by adding the geometrical term Tetractys to its title, McGregor underscores his fascination with the composer as a master of musical puzzles.

The work is divided into short sections, each of which echoes the music's different strategies: a bright, rhythmic, staggered trio; an ensemble that builds densely linear patterns out of a few soft, simple steps; duets in which McGregor embodies the counterpoint of two musical voices within the trellising of a classically based pas de deux. The opening duet, between Edward Watson and Natalia Osipova, is especially fine – a rapt, silken fusion of academic dance and McGregor's more sheering, postmodern style.

Moment by moment, Tetractys is a very interesting exercise, but it is one that McGregor fails to turn into compelling dance. He's hampered by Tauba Auerbach's design, a busy sequencing of neon geometries and brashly patterned unitards that switch distractingly from section to section. It's Bach by numbers and by colour-coding - and rather than unifying the choreography, it only reinforces its bittiness.

Within this programme of all-British choreography, Tetractys is flanked by revivals of MacMillan's Gloria and Ashton's Rhapsody. In the latter, Laura Morera dances a witty, challenging muse to Steven McRae, who gives one of the most musically thrilling performance of his career, pouncing on the flicker of menace, the dark storminess within the choreography's brilliant speeds. Rhapsody's second cast perform with a more sweetly youthful kind of reverie, but in Francesca Hayward's feathered lightness and soft, unguarded radiance, the Royal has a ballerina to watch.

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Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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