The Human Seasons

At the start of David Dawson’s The Human Seasons, a new work for the Royal Ballet, the curtain rises slowly on four women held high above the heads of their male partners, in fiercely extended arabesques. Their arms and legs push dynamically forward and back into space, their heads are lifted high. They appear to have been caught mid-motion rather than to be holding a position, and that immediate sensation of movement says much about Mr. Dawson’s interests as a choreographer.

The Human Seasons has a romanticism and sense of drama that bring an unusual emotional charge to the dance. Those qualities are amplified by Mr. Haines’s score, which alternates slow, shivery lines of string sounds with more propulsive, urgent rhythms.

The four couples who begin the piece seem constantly in flight. The women jump up and out of their partners’s arms as if escaping their hold and the men have bravura allegro ensemble passages or solos (a particularly dazzling one at the beginning for Steven McRae) in which they seem driven by an unnamed urgency.

The energy and drama that this urgency communicates is one of the best things about The Human Seasons. ... Mr. Dawson’s skill at moving his dancers through endless and surprising configurations is another.

The structure of the ballet is unpredictable and for the most part satisfying. Mr. Dawson often adds a lone figure to his segments for the four central couples (Lauren Cuthbertson, Edward Watson, Melissa Hamilton, Eric Underwood, Sarah Lamb, Mr. McRae, Marianela Núñez and Fedrico Bonelli) and new formations mutate magically as the dancers (who also include Olivia Cowley, Itziar Mendizabal, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Johannes Stepanek and Dawid Trzensimiech) melt on and off stage.

Beautiful pas de deux (notably for Mr. Watson and Ms. Cuthbertson and for Ms. Hamilton and Mr. Underwood) seem to emerge organically, relationships forming and dissolving. Intersecting lines of dancers form sudden, abstract geometries, as if living representations of Bert Dalhuysen’s thin arrows of light projected upon the half-black, half-gold box by Eno Henze that frames the stage.

Mr. Dawson’s strengths and craft — his flair for creating astonishing lifts and swirling turns (a woman swung through the air, held just by the crook of her knee); his facility for forming and dissolving unison sequences; the emotional qualities conveyed by the constantly bending, turning, whirling movement.

Physically, the work is punishingly difficult, especially for the men, as Mr. Dawson keeps them constantly moving throughout the tough lifting and partnering with Mr. Watson showing a particular understanding of Mr. Dawson’s highly coordinated, constantly bending and folding vocabulary.

The ballet comes to a satisfying close, ending as it began, with the same high, dramatic lift in arabesque, now more of a lingering image than an instant of flight.

There are many moments like this in The Human Seasons, where Mr. Dawson shows his sophistication of craft, his eye for beauty and his ability to give ballet a contemporary resonance.

Roslyn Sulcas | The New York Times


You shouldn't call something a 'world première' unless it's very, very good — so luckily The Human Seasons was. David Dawson’s The Human Seasons is the second of the five ‘world premières’ that the Royal Ballet will perform this season. Fortunately, this new creation deserves global recognition and admiration, for it is a splendid example of theatre and choreographic composition.

Dawson’s dance-making stands out for the inventive appropriation, manipulation and use of both the classical and neoclassical canons. His choreography is refreshingly innovative without ever being unorthodox just for the sake of it. Central to the performance is a seamless outpouring of well-considered, theatrically surprising ideas and an extraordinary use of space. Thanks to both, the overall effect is of a dance that flows through a constant crescendo of engaging ideas. There are thematic reiterations, but their use never compromises the breadth of the choreographic development. Seamless action and full use of space — which gives the impression of the action starting and continuing in the wings — are distinctive traits of that northern European choreographic school that Dawson operates artistically within. Yet, there is more to The Human Seasons than the application of a particular choreographic school. The work, inspired by Keats’s verse, addresses facets of human emotions. The theme is not a new one, and has often been chosen by other famous dance-makers. Here, however, the illustrations of different moods is never rendered too graphically, and the ‘seasons’ of the title conjure up a range of intense atmospheres.

This five-star choreography is matched and complemented by a five-star score by Greg Haines. I wish I had both the expertise and the space to comment more deeply on his intoxicating music, as I feel it requires a review of its own. The linear, imposing but never intrusive sets, by Eno Henze, and the deceptively simple- looking costumes, by Yumiko Takeshima, added greatly to the success of the whole.

The dancing, too, was superb, with a galaxy of stars — Lauren Cuthbertson, Melissa Hamilton, Sarah Lamb, Marianela Nuñez, Edward Watson, Eric Underwood, Steven McRae and Federico Bonelli; and super soloists: Olivia Cowley, Itziar Mendizabal, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Johannes Stepanek and Dawid Trzensimiech — that brought joy to every balletomane.

Giannandrea Poesio | The Spectator


There is no doubt that the Royal Ballet’s desicion to welcome home-grown choreographer David Dawson back into its fold was a good one - though long overdue. He is now, quite rightly, in popular demand across the globe and, on the evidence of his new work, The Human Seasons, and his previously seen pieces in this country - it’s not hard to see why.

Watching The Human Seasons feels like the start of an immense journey that will continue to move into unimaginable realms of innnovation. From the moment the curtain rises on four couples, the women held aloft, as if in suspended repose, the ballet unfurls in magical and seamless progression.

Dawson’s vocabulary is very balletic in its purity and in the exquisite shaping of the lifts, but he deftly surprises us with rapid changes of direction, with the women sliding across the floor and even in McRae’s first explosive solo. What raises this work to an altogether different level is Dawson’s unbelievably sensitive use of transition steps, which, in effect, means that whilst the choreography ebbs and flows, there is never a moment when we see exactly how the dancer arrives at a position. There are no clompy preparations for pirouettes or obvioud changes in weight before the dancer is in full flight. This is truly aesthetically stunning composition, at its finest. It is also emotive, though without narrative, being loosely attributed to the John Keats poem of the same title. It reflects Greg Haines’ commissioned score down to the last note, and the dancers are clad in white tights for the men, ‘tailored’ leotards for the women, which are both beautiful and flattering. Eno Henze’s set and projection design is appropriately unobtrusive and frames the stage well; Bert Dalhuysen’s lighting likewise. The dancers are breathtaking - with Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli stunning in an ‘autumnal’ duet. But in truth every member of the cast is shown to great advantage - as Dawson has created a work that the company dance with obvious passion. I sincerely hope that this is the start of a long association between Dawson and the British dance scene.

Deborah Weiss | Dance Europe 


The Human Seasons is Dawson’s first commission for the Royal Ballet and it arrives fully formed. His work is a gorgeous thing to look at. Finished to a very high spec, you could say. Classy costumes, vast black and matte gold walls, a string-laden score that tugs at some non-specific emotions. It’s modern luxe, in fashion speak.

His rapid, relentless movement has urgency, but also finesse, and it’s designed to make the dancers look impressive — lots of high arabesques and quick soutenu spins. They arch their backs and swoop up their arms, wrists broken, like gymnasts victoriously punctuating their routines.

Dawson is a choreographer with his eye on the big picture, making use of the vast stage, organising his dancers into pleasing architecture. But the loveliest moments are the fleeting, personal ones: when a curious crowd of dancers briefly stops to watch Edward Watson manipulate Lauren Cuthbertson into exquisite obtuse angles; or when Eric Underwood leaves Melissa Hamilton balanced on one pointe, like a casually held breath, and just walks off stage.

For Dawson, it’s a highly respectable homecoming.

Lindsey Winship | Evening Standard


Since leaving the Royal Ballet, BRB and ENB, Dawson has worked mostly in Europe, so his first commission for the Royal Ballet comes with huge expectations, and he does not disappoint.

As the title suggests the thirty-four minute ballet is all about the cycle of life, and ends as it starts, with the women, branches to mighty oaks, held aloft by the men. Another journey, for four couples and a quintet, emotional, temperamental, overactive, joyful and confused.

The vocabulary is rich and dazzling in its script. There are lifts and moves I’ve never seen before. Steven McRae hooks his arm under the crook of Sarah Lamb’s knee and lifts her in an astonishing arc.

Men, Apollos in white tights, women in Yumiko Takeshima’s sheer black bodies, the assembled ages of man, play out life’s untidy passions in intersecting individual and collective madness and fury.

Edward Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson a solemn couple, Federico Bonelli an impatient youth speeding through life, Melissa Hamilton (the ideal feminine?) manhandled by six men, Marianela Nuñez and Bonelli facing the end with fortitude, Cuthbertson (the angel of death?) guiding their way.

Dawson has chosen music by electronic artist Greg Haines (Gavin Bryars inspired), who brings a lyrical still beauty to life’s condition, strings sigh, bells and drums accompany its finality.

Very Liber | British Theatre Guide


The world premiere in this triple bill was the second ballet by David Dawson, making his Royal Ballet debut as a choreographer. I know someone who skipped the first item, and another who skipped the third, but both were in full anticipation of the second and neither was disappointed.

David Dawson’s The Human Seasons provided a beautiful contrast. Dawson’s choreography for The Human Seasons gave us twirling and sideways movements, with far fewer dancers but making full use of the deep stage.

The idea is based on Keats’s poem of the same title: Four Seasons fill the measure of the year ..., dealing with human life in terms of its spring, summer, autumn and winter. Superb dancing by four principal couples and five soloists was framed at birth and death by the four principal men holding their partners aloft, and with Steven McRae taking a central role throughout. The choreography fitted beautifully with Greg Haines’ music.

This is a ballet not to be missed at any cost — and the cost is very low — so no surprise that the remaining five performances are already sold out, except Student Standby for the matinee on 23rd November. Get a fake ID in preparation.

Mark Ronan |


The Human Seasons, the Royal Ballet's first work by David Dawson, is different on every level. Above all, it has a sense of coherence and continuity: the dancing follows the musical lines of Greg Haines's lyrical score; the balletic style is stretched but never broken; duets are always embedded within a wider sense of the ensemble; there is a clear arc. The curtain rises on four couples, with the women held high. Through the course of the work, each couple will come to the fore, will embody a different dynamic – breezy ease, swooping dives, skating slides – and will return to their opening position.

But this is not a suite of dances simply pegged to a cycle of seasons; it is far more through-composed than that. Its principal motif is the cascading line, whether in the chains of dancers streaming around the stage, in the ripple-effects of steps being multiplied across the group, or in one of the most captivating sequences in the trailing eddies left by six men as they keep Hamilton airborne. The flux of action is punctuated by simple standstills, with the arms opening on an in breath.

Sanjoy Roy | The Guardian


David Dawson’s eloquent The Human Seasons is a highlight of the Royal Ballet’s Triple Bill. On the face of it, the Royal Ballet was doing David Dawson few favours by scheduling The Human Seasons, his debut work for the company, on a bill with Wayne McGregor and Kenneth MacMillan. However, to his credit, Dawson more than holds his own with such exalted names.

Framed around John Keats’s poem, Dawson’s year in a life of dance opens with a suitably lusty Spring, all frisky lifts and pell mell sprints around the stage, the reckless joy of youth caught in hot-wired energy. Nothing tops that opening but such is life. Without labouring the point, Dawson traces an eloquent arc through the cares of experience.

Buoyed by subtle lighting and design by Bert Dalhuysen and Eno Henze, echoing Bauhaus painter Johannes Itten’s book 'The Art Of Color', The Human Seasons uses skin tone and black costumes set against slabs of different backdrops to mute or heighten the mood. It’s a work that promises to reveal more on repeat viewings.

Keith Watson | Metro


The boy's no slouch, as anyone who has seen A Million Kisses to my Skin or Faun(e) can testify. A deeply romantic work, Dawson's piece is attractive and intermittently brilliant. 

With a nod to Balanchine and Serge Lifar, the opening is a neo-classicist's dream with four men holding their partners aloft. To the cascading strings of Greg Haines' score the dancers pursue an intricate courtship with slight variations between each couple. The ebb and flow of limb and torso and the generous posturing reveal the sheer majesty of the human body in motion. 

The two outstanding sequences are the manipulation of one girl between six men and an extended pas de deux between Marianela Nunez and Federico Bonelli whose mercurial fluidity and tender dynamism are what ballet was made for.

Neil Norman | Daily Express


The Human Seasons is almost as demanding of its audience's attention as it is of its cast's stamina and technique. Notionally taking its lead from Keats's poem of the same name, the ballet veers at times into an exploration of recent evolutions in classical dance, a subject on which Dawson is well qualified to pronounce.

He's not afraid to gild the lily. Dancers rush about, carried on a flood-tide of lyricism, carving decorative flourishes as they go. At moments, the influence of Frederick Ashton is detectable, both structurally – ghostly traces of 'Symphonic Variations' – and in the swooping lushness of the upper body work. But The Human Seasons is not pastoral in the Keatsian sense, nor does it strive for the emotional reverberation of 'Symphonic Variations'. What engages the choreographer here is form. Rigorously adhering to Greg Haines's orchestral score, Dawson creates a succession of fast-evolving, fast-dissolving sculptural moments. There's a fine, clear duet for Edward Watson and Lauren Cuthbertson and another for Eric Underwood and Melissa Hamilton. There are ravishing and poignant late moments, particularly for Federico Bonelli and Marianela Nuñez.

Luke Jennings | The Observer


Its centrepiece was a new work from David Dawson, who trained at the Royal Ballet School, danced with Birmingham Royal Ballet, and has since made successful works for companies around Europe. Those I have seen I have admired. His first commission for the Royal Ballet has energy and whirling invention. Taking the Keats poem The Human Seasons, which parallels the ageing of man with the changing of the year, as its inspiration and its title, it sets 13 dancers – eight principals and a chorus – dashing around in a series of neo-classical poses. It exhibits a lot of high jumps, distinctive lifts. There is a section of limpid beauty: a punchy pas de deux for Lauren Cuthbertson and Edward Watson, a wintery coupling for Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli, a quick-fire solo for Steven McRae.

Sarah Crompton | The Telegraph