Choreographer David Dawson’s latest work, The Human Seasons – named for the Keats poem – has received poor reviews in its recent outing by the Royal Ballet. “London critics can be delighted to know that I have decided not to show my work any longer if I can help it,” wrote Dawson in a tweet, according to the UK’s Telegraph, that has since been deleted. He signed off the tweet with #respectgoesbothways.
But it is an extraordinary attack on the Royal Ballet’s dancers – written under the name of Dawson’s choreographic assistant Tim Couchman (though this is unverified) – that has made headlines, appearing in the comments section of what appears to be the most critical review of Dawson’s work, on ArtsDesk. Top-class professionals, “do not bicker and moan about things they think are impossible before they’ve even tried them,” wrote ‘Couchman’.
Choreographer David Dawson
The ArtsDesk review itself was scathing. “Everything that is vapid and dreadful about contemporary ballet is present and correct,” wrote Hanna Weibye in her review. “Repetitive score based on arpeggios and ground bass; greige set with abstract light projections; complicated but banal ‘neo-classical’ choreography that even Royal Ballet principals struggle to display to advantage; and startling and tasteless gymnastic feats.” And despite having asserted early in her discussion of the piece that “the less said about David Dawson’s The Human Seasons the better,” she goes on to write: “The dancers make a game stab at it, like the top-class professionals they are, but only explosive Marcelino Sambé and pantherine Calvin Richardson manage to strike sparks from this wet material … Let’s see no more of this, please.”
The commenter, under Couchman’s name, responded: “As the stager of The Human Seasons, I would like to say that the ballet you saw was not, in truth, The Human Seasons – it was, as you say ‘a game stab at it’. And if you’d been privy to the staging process, your assumption that all the dancers are ‘top-class professionals’ might perhaps have been challenged.” The commentor then launches into an essay on the appropriate behaviour of “top-class professionals”, concluding: “And a top-class professional (not to mention true artist) would never ever be satisfied with scraping though at the last minute, shrunken with shame, knowing they didn’t really do their best. Only when ALL cast members behave as top-class professionals, can a work of art hope to reveal it’s [sic] fragile truth.”
And the ArtsDesk review was by no means the only one that was critical. The Telegraph’s reviewer described the work as the weak link in the triple bill (that also included Christopher Wheeldon’s After the Rain and Crystal Pite’s Flight Pattern), branding it “fussy, unfocussed,” and “less than the sum of its parts.”
Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Federico Bonelli in David Dawson’s The Human Seasons. Photograph © Tristram Kenton/ROH.
The Independent, however, was positive – if brief – devoting a short final paragraph to the work, as was the Guardian, which described Dawson as “a seriously inventive choreographer, with a special gift for structure,” before tempering their praise with, “the stage is too busy, too clever with steps, and there are moments where Dawson needs to give his choreography a chance to breathe.”
In the aftermath of the furore caused by the comment and the tweet, Dawson issued a statement to the dancers and Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare. “Dear dancers of the Royal Ballet, Kevin O’Hare and all his team at Covent Garden,” he said. “I would like you to know that you have my greatest admiration and respect. It has been a true honour and a privilege to work with you and to share the stage with the superb Crystal Pite and Christopher Wheeldon.”
“Thank you for your art,” he said.
Originally written for the Royal Ballet’s 2013 season, The Human Seasons didn’t fare much better when it was first performed, the Financial Times writing: “Dawson’s choreography is fluent, slightly too introspective, the seasonal theme intriguing. But the score is unrelievedly earnest, and goes on. And so, un-pruned, does Dawson’s score-hugging movement, admirably done by its cast.”