Agon / Sphinx / Limen at the Royal Opera House

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Johannes Stepanek and Christina Arestis in Agon. Photo:Bill Cooper

The Royal Ballet’s triple bill of Agon, Sphinx and Limen at the Royal Opera House last night was an interesting lesson in the how modern classical ballet has developed. It was also, unexpectedly, an insight into the behaviour of today’s ballet audience…

The programme seemed designed to educate, starting with Balanchine’s Agon – choreographed in the 1950s, then moving to Glen Tetley’s 1977 work Sphinx, and finishing with Wayne McGregor’s brand new ballet, Limen.

Agon felt very much in line with the avant garde art movements of the late 50s and early 60s. It was apparently quite revolutionary for its time. However, the stark look (costumes were basic black leotards), feel (no discernible storyline) and soundtrack (Stravinsky) left me a bit cold. And my next-door neighbours must have been completely frozen; they didn’t return after the interval.

Sphinx started off a lot better – there was actually a set. And quite an impressive one too, with two gorgeous, sweeping wings made of metal and glass, and a gleaming “altar” in between. Edward Watson as Anubis stole the show for me here – looking incredible and otherworldly even when he removed his Egyptian dog-god mask.

Limen by the Royal Ballet Company‘s resident choreographer Wayne McGregror also began promisingly. A scrim with digital numbers floating across it fronted the stage, while dancers were randomly illuminated in puddles of light behind. Unfortunately, this show of technology prompted another near neighbour to bust out her digital camera, the glowing screen of which proved such a distraction I had to politely remind her it wasn’t a rock concert, while physically restraining my friend from biffing her one.

Situation averted, we settled back to the ballet, which was a celebration of lighting effects, block colours and clever movement. Thinking about it afterwards, I could see the correlation between all three ballets – each one visionary for its time; pushing the boundaries, while drawing on tradition. I might not have loved Agon but you could see that without Baly’s Ballet back then, we wouldn’t have the McGregor of today.

A quick straw poll at VL towers of audiences behaving badly has people chatting, texting, snoring and even vomiting in the theatre. What’s the weirdest thing that you’ve experienced as an audience member?


  1. Lettice says:

    I’ve also encountered someone vomiting in the theatre. When I saw David Hasselhoff in Chicago, an audience member arrived very drunk and was very sick and refused to leave the auditorium until Hasselhoff had left the stage. He was clinging on to the stair rail and at one point we thought he might leap off the balcony to get to the stage.

  2. foamy says:

    I used to be an usher in an old cinema, where all the seats had detachable cushions. The kids figured it out and used to have cushion fights. In school holidays, we had to have an usher stationed at each corner of the theatre; as soon as the movie ended, the projectionist flicked all the house lights on full, revealing kids like rabbits in the headlights, each with a huge pile of cushions. Our job was to collar them all and bundle them out of any available exit before the mayhem began. Freddie Kruger films were the worst.

  3. Jenny says:

    I was at the theatre earlier this week and someone was snoring loudly somewhere behind me – is it a reflection on the person or the play?