Electric Counterpoint

Royal Ballet, 2008

Credits | Reviews  ⇓


Winner 2018 Critic’s Circle National Dance Award: Best Classical Production




Music by Johann Sebastian Bach; Steve Reich, 1987

Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon

Stage and Costume Design by Jean-Marc Puissant

Lighting by Jennifer Tipton




Production Manager: Carl Root

Costume Supervisor: Fay Fullerton

Hair and Make Up Supervisor: Melanie Bouvet

Dyeing: Parveen Banga and ROH Dye Shop

Images © I. Kerslake and courtesy of Royal Opera House

(…) at once very modern and strikingly beautiful.” 

The Telegraph

The design for Electric Counterpoint is based on the mechanics of the creative process, exposing its many layers and forms. At its heart is the notion that any theatrical event, even non-narratice and abstract, is always based on the individuals at its core, their lives and stories.


The project started with the creative team interviewing the cast of 4 dancers about their careers and personalities. From these, we devised four personas and created four short films of them performing solos, costumed as imagined characters.


The first part of the ballet presents each dancer performing their solo live in front of the projection of their film. It is set to a live piano score of J. S. Bach, mixed with audio excerpt recordings of their interview.


The second part of the work is set to Reich’s score: an amplified live solo guitar, digitally recorded and looped in counterpoint. Dancers perform in front of projections of themselves, in close ups or multiplied into an infinite corps de ballet.


The Financial Times by Clement Crisp

Wheeldon and his designer Jean-Marc Puissant, with Michael Nunn and Willam Trevitt as producers of the important video projections, and with Natasha Chivers as an admirable lighting designer, have made tremendous theatrical capital from the interplay between the cast of four splendid dancers and the multitude of video selves, the duplications and reflections of their presence, their dream-images and alter egos, who throng the set with its screens and doors. We are in a Hall of Mirrors, the magician’s box where reality is trick and trick is reality. And where four dancers can become an entire corps de ballet. The sum effect was fascinating: thought-provoking in terms of dance in the theatre, opening up vistas of meaning, possibilities of doctored movement, the whole made exhilarating by the quality of the dancers’ actions and the bravura of the statement. Not Pandora’s box of tricks; rather the promise of technology and its illusions as balletic trompe l’oeil and as production manner. The ballet, in sum, is a bravura exercise in seeing and not seeing (like those Las Vegas magicians who can make a truck disappear “in front of your very eyes!”) but, more significantly, a dazzling study in how dance may reflect on itself in the theatre, and in the creator’s mind, and how dancers trail physical and psychic identities when they appear before us. The piece has been superbly achieved by everyone concerned: the stage has become a place of the most cunning trickery where dance, design and video effects produce hundreds of rabbits, orchids, and a bombe glacée from a top hat, and the dancers are handsomely shown off. (Yanowsky should hang on to that ball-dress!) Hurrah for all concerned.


The New York Times by Alastair Macaulay

The audience entering the Royal Opera House sees Jean-Marc Puissant’s bare décor onstage: a wall of different heights, fragmented into three separate angles, including four doors side by side. Only when the work begins do the famous Royal Opera House red curtains descend. They promptly part. An extended prologue follows. One after another, four dancers do “practice” movement, while behind them a film shows a slightly blurred image that looks at first like each dancer’s mirror. Then the filmed dancer moves into divergent choreography, even other costuming. The drama becomes an intricate interplay between present and past, live and recorded action. History consciousness seems just part of the postmodernism of “Electric Counterpoint.” At the end they appear in full costume, for the first time, as if the ballet were about to begin; or — as the costumes suggest — four different ballets.


The Times by Debra Craine

The digital dancers are like a corps de ballet wrapped around the walls and doors of Jean-Marc Puissant’s set, which feels variously like a studio or a stage. We hear Zenaida Yanowsky dreaming of glamour (her digital self is dressed in a ballgown) and then see her being effortlessly glamorous on stage, despite her more prosaic costume.


The Telegraph by Sarah Crompton

Layered multimedia images of the same dancers (all exceptional), filmed by ballet’s arch-modernisers Michael Nunn and William Trevitt (aka the Ballet Boyz) and projected on to the elegant simplicities of Jean-Marc Puissant’s angular white set. The result is at once very modern and strikingly beautiful. It asks knotty questions – yet makes the thoughts lovely by the glamour with which they are presented. The piece opens with the section set to Bach, and each of the dancers confronting and reacting to an image of themselves, projected as in a mirror. These reflections are grave – Underwood’s image watches his live body beneath with panther-like stillness; Yanowsky’s, in a gleaming golden gown, reaches out and touches her living image by the hand. The visual effects are so many that it is easy to lose sight of the dance; but it is this that makes Electric Counterpoint so powerful; it is choreography of originality and complexity. When the dancers emerge in the final moments, glittering in the glory of their individuality, you feel that you have been on a very rich journey in a very short time.


The Spectator  by Giannandrea Poesio

Visually complete, thanks to Jean-Marc Puissant’s splendid costumes.


The Guardian by Judith Mackrell

Wheeldon and his team of designers conjure fascinating contrasts.