Tamara Rojo has wowed the Opera House crowd ever since she arrived at The Royal Ballet in 2000. She did a pretty impressive job while at English National Ballet and Scottish Ballet before that, but it’s at the Royal where she’s become one of the leading ballerinas of her generation. Still only 35, she has another five years ahead of her, although she’s also eyeing her exit strategy, completing a PhD, no less, in performing arts, and shadowing Karen Kain, the artistic director at National Ballet of Canada.
She’s also created a new smaller-scale work with choreographer Kim Brandstrup that opened at the Linbury Studio Theatre this week. Brandstrup is an interesting choice, as instead of hailing from the ballet world, he studied film at the University of Copenhagen and choreography at the London Contemporary Dance School before forming his own troupe and creating new work for his own and other companies, including The Royal Ballet.
For Goldberg, Rojo and Brandstrup employ their different pasts to potent effect. The start point is Bach’s heavenly Goldberg Variations, played mostly live by Phillip Gammon on stage. The scene is a dance studio, with seven dancers practicing both a new ballet and rehearsing their own lives.
Over and over they repeat their steps, and over and over they repeat the connections they make with other dancers. Rojo is centre stage, with Royal Ballet colleagues Thomas Whitehead and Steven McRae the man she wants and the one who may want her.
Rojo also watches the four contemporary dancers (Clara Barbera, Laura Caldow, Tommy Franzen, Riccardo Meneghini) as they loop and move around her. Sometimes she seems envious of their loose-limbed steps, intrigued by their contrast to her balletic precision. At other times they are merely shadowy figures she passes in life.
As the 90-minute work evolves, Rojo lets go of Whitehead’s distant charms and becomes aware of McRae. The virtuoso mover is brilliantly cast against type – instead of the bold, confident characters he usually conveys, McRae is quiet, timid even.
It’s unclear if Rojo and McRae will connect. However, as the piece closes, you suspect they have at least learned to stop repeating the same mistakes, and may live their lives in real time.