Breaking with tradition in a rare duet between two ballerinas



The camera tracks slowly onto a motionless, standing figure and then repeats the same movement. Fleetingly we wonder whether we are looking at the same dancer; the same brown-eyed girl, hair parted on the right, pinned back in a bun. The physical similarities seem uncanny, like encountering identical twins.

"Like peas in a pod," agrees Andrew Margetson, the director of "Duet," a short film exclusive to CNN Style.

In fact, one dancer is in a green top, the other in blue. But what really matters here is the dance.

Female pas de deux are relatively rare in ballet. A piece of this nature choreographed by a woman, rarer still. The dancers are both rising stars of London's Royal Ballet: Beatriz Stix-Brunell, first soloist and Yasmine Naghdi, recently promoted to principal. The choreographer is Kristen McNally, principal character artist with the company.

Before the dancers begin their duet, we hear Beatriz Stix-Brunell express an old conundrum: "It's a ballerina world. Ballet is woman, in a way, but it's still primarily run by men."

"As a dancer you see a lot of male duets but you don't see female duets very often," she explains.

This film offers a little break with tradition.

Still from "Duet" by Andrew Margetson

'Simple, beautiful and strong.'

There are no lifts in "Duet." The dancers barely touch, except for a brief, gentle cradling of an arm. They rise en pointe, as the music slows and quickens. The dance is brief. McNally describes it as, "simple, beautiful and strong."

"A lot of time was spent with it in my head," she explained. But when it came to it, "the dancers and I did two rehearsals and then we shot the film."

Still from "Duet by Andrew Margetson

Margetson, a British commercial and short film director, is passionate about ballet and contemporary dance but shared the view that, "classical ballet is all about women and the female form, but is controlled by men." So he set about creating something he himself had never seen, a female duet crafted by a female choreographer.

Margetson approached old friends and collaborators. He commissioned music from the Los Angeles-based Scottish composer Lorne Balfe, who normally writes for movies and video games, such "Terminator Genisys' and "Assassin's Creed."

London's Royal Opera House crucially provided the dancers, the space and Kristen McNally. Margetson explained his aim was to create something "austere and stark" in the white neutrality of a rehearsal studio. He hired his regular commercials crew and paid for the one-day shoot himself.

More opportunities for women

Kristen McNally explained that her, "first love is being a dancer and getting to work and learning from amazing choreographers."

"At every opportunity," she said, "I will continue being creative, exploring different ways of making work and finding my own voice."

But when asked whether there are there now more opportunities for female choreographers she replied, "wonderfully, I have never felt any different from my male peers. If work is good and people like it then it's successful no matter what gender created it."

A scene from "Flight Pattern" from the mixed programme "The Human Seasons / After the Rain / Flight Pattern." It was last on stage 16--24 March 2017 as part of the Winter 2016/17 season at The Royal Opera House Credit: ©Tristram Kenton/©Tristram Kenton

In March 2017 the acclaimed Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite became the first woman to create a ballet for the main stage at the Royal Opera House in 18 years.

"Flight Pattern" was short and somber, with a cast of 36 dancers, including Kristen McNally. It amounted to Pite's visceral artistic response to the plight of refugees, or as she put it in a video on the Royal ballet's website, "my way of coping with the world at the moment."

As a dancer, McNally found the whole experience, "incredible. But being a choreographer too, I was curious to see how Crystal created.

Unfortunately there's no trick! You'd be working in a way that felt familiar and then magic happened and I'd think, 'how on earth did she just put that together?'"

The Guardian's dance critic found "Flight Pattern" to be "deeply affecting" and gave it five stars. At 76, the veteran American choreographer, Twyla Tharp, has also been commissioned to make a piece for the Royal Opera House, to be premiered this November. McNally says she will be, "an excited spectator."