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On my way to the Linbury. You never see this by tube or bus.

And I mean rocks, because if ever there was a choreographer who could make dance the new rock n’ roll for me, it’s her. The last piece of hers I saw at the Linbury Yes we did… choreographed to Obama’s ‘Yes we can’ speech blew me away. The Telegraph called it a ‘tribute to Obama’, but it was more than that. It was a dance that revealed the music of Obama’s rhetoric so artfully, that it could be either adulation or satire. It was funny, sensuous, musical, political and top-drawer choreography and dancing all in one. I was in awe.

So when I went to see the Royal Ballet new works at the Linbury last night, I was excited to see what was next. To describe Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game in words is to insult its brilliance, because what she does in choreography is to say through music and movement what is unsayable in words.

Her send up of clichés of gender, music and movement is so funny, I thought I was going to be sent out for laughing too loudly. Towards the middle, there was a harmonica in the music that began to annoy me. Really annoy me. It whined on and on, and I began to hate what the harmonica stood for as a sound. Just when I thought ‘please stop this’, Tom Whitehead had a real harmonica shoved in his gob by a passing ballerina, and was left to continue his next solo with with it stuck there. It was a moment of such multifaceted comedy, you couldn’t quite work out what had happened. It was as if McNally was saying ‘Ha! You thought I didn’t notice!’ There’s no suitable phrase for the concept of being hoist by your own harmonica, but she just did it in dance.

But just because I refer to her sending stuff up doesn’t mean that this is just an amuse-gueule, it’s humour that withers like a glance, and cuts like a scalpel. Another favourite moment was when three sirens appeared, the equivalent of watching an entire rack of ‘Men’s interests’ magazines in W H Smith come alive like a poisonous figment of the male imagination, a self-induced triple homunculus. Backs to audience in Loaded style, they unleashed their hair with brilliantly choreographed timing to a syrupy, kitsch climax in the music. Once you’ve seen this, you’ll never be able to take such music seriously again, because you know now that despite taking itself seriously, it has all the gravitas of a L’Oréal advert. It was like watching Adorno’s entire critique of mass culture in a movement, and much more successful. I could go on, and on, and on. But you really have to see it.

It was a fabulous evening, and I haven’t got time to do all of it justice, but I have to mention my three favourite other moments.

  • Robert Clarke’s performance of the Shostakovich prelude & fugues for Samodurov’s piece was so brilliant and beautiful, I’m afraid he ruined it. For however beautifully people moved on stage, there was a body and sensuality in his playing so perfect, I kept having to look over to see how on earth a human being could keep it up so relentlessly. Every phrase in the slower movements suggested shapes and bodies that were bigger and more visible than the dance. It wasn’t the dancers’ fault, or Samodurov’s – but next time, hire someone fallible at the keyboard if you want people to look at the choreography.
  • Alastair Marriott’s duet for Gary Avis & Mara Galeazzi Lieder sent shivers down my spine. I’m no great fan of Brahms, or Lieder, but I could be after this. But only because while Brahms unsettles you and makes you swim through dark, troubled waters, Gary Avis seemed to have all the emotional strength you need to carry you through. There was one moment when you could sense a terrible climax coming up in the music, and – how can you explain it? – Avis took his partner with such assurance and strength, you felt like someone had saved you from falling out of an open window without batting an eyelid. It’s because that moment is so indescribable that it gave a whole justification for dancing at all in the first place. The final position that the couple assume is the nearest thing I have seen in the physical universe to a chord. Beautiful.
  • Erico Montes’ Hallelujah Junction had me wanting to scream hallelujah. I swear if someone had told me to give my life to Jesus or the Royal Ballet in the middle of that piece, I would have done it. It’s probably the best extended dancing I’ve ever seen in my life. I loved the music, which fizzed and popped and bounced like corporeal space dust, and the four main dancers (Bennet Gartside, Kenta Kura, Sergei Polunin, Jonathan Watkins) did the same. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and ears. They were joyfully bang on top of that music for every single one of its kaleidoscopically shifting beats. It had a rhythmic security, verve, stamina, flow and assurance that was as stunning as it was inexorable and I am still wondering how on earth they managed it.

Kristen McNally weblog at

6 thought on “Kristen McNally rocks”
  1. “if ever there was a choreographer who could make dance the new rock n’ roll for me, it’s her.” Absolutely spot on!

    Really enjoyed your review & we now know what to feature for our “cult blog post of the week” share next Sunday.



  2. Hi Jonathan,

    Someone pointed out your blog and all I can say is thankyou for your very kind words about my playing. I really hope it didn’t distract you too much from Slava’s choreography though!

    I presume you’re the same Jonathan Still who used to (or still does?) work at the RAD? I used to play for open classes and summer schools in the mid to late 90’s when Carolyn was still there.

    Anyway, thanks again for your blog.


    1. Hi Rob,
      Yes, it’s the same me, and I’m still there – I think you were just leaving as I came in. Like I said, your playing totally distracted me from the choreography!

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Jonathan Still, ballet pianist