Royal Ballet Triple: Apollo/ 24 Preludes/ Aeternum, Covent Garden, February 2013

Two completely new ballets, plus one staple from the Balanchine repertoire, made a very well judged triple bill. Alexei Ratmansky’s dances to Chopin’s 24 Preludes were sandwiched between the ethereal Apollo, and Christopher Wheeldon’s powerful new creation to Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. More on that later, but first to Apollo.

Nuñez and Acosta in Apollo, all images ROH/ Johan Persson

Nuñez and Acosta in Apollo, all images ROH/ Johan Persson

Patricia Neary’s staging goes back to Balanchine’s original including the prologue, and Carlos Acosta was an Apollonian character of huge power. The three muses performed with great precision, Marianela Nuñez making a wonderful Terpsichore with her lyre. Calliope with her scroll of paper was portrayed by Olivia Cowley, and Polyhymnia in a mask, holding a finger to her mouth to represent silent mime, was a very musically expressive Itziar Mendizabal.

Sarah Lamb in 24 Preludes

Sarah Lamb in 24 Preludes

Following the serenity of Apollo, Ratmansky’s 24 Preludes made a complete contrast with its effervescent choreography. Chopin’s Preludes are composed in all 24 different keys (12 major alternating with 12 minor) and in these 24 pieces there were solos, duets, trios, and more, ending with all eight dancers in D minor. Lovely costume designs by Colleen Atwood: girls in flowing dresses, two silvery-blue, two purple, and the four boys in silvery tops and black tights. Neil Austin’s lighting design for the backdrop involved subtle changes throughout, and Chopin’s music sounded intriguingly contrarian in a version orchestrated by French composer Jean Françaix. A superb performance by eight of the Company’s star performers.

Kish and Nuñez/ Aeternum

Kish and Nuñez/ Aeternum

Finally came Wheeldon’s Aeternum to music that represents the peak of Britten’s early orchestral writing. It was originally commissioned by the Japanese government for the 2,600th anniversary of Emperor Jimmu in 1940, and although they initially accepted Britten’s idea it was later rejected as completely unsuitable. The three movements are: Lacrymosa (a slow marching lament), Dies irae (a sort of dance of death) and Requiem aeternam (the final resolution), and as an expression of pacifism it was a reaction against dark political developments abroad in the world.

Bonelli and Nuñez/ Aeternum

Bonelli and Nuñez/ Aeternum

Wheeldon’s powerful choreography was complemented by a hugely impressive three-dimensional backdrop by Jean-Marc Puissant, cleverly lit by Adam Silverman. At the start of Part I and end of Part II a body lies on the stage, but in Part III all is clear with the backdrop lifted, and just before the final curtain two silhouettes walk away from the audience. In the meantime Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish were wonderful together in Part I, James Hay performed a fine solo in Part II, and Nuñez and Bonelli were beautifully expressive in their Part III pas-de-deux.

This intriguing ballet demands a second view, but all performances are sold out. Here is one of the perils of success. The Royal Ballet has shown itself to be so good at putting on mixed bills, yet there are only five performances. Preparing new works like these is such a huge job, and although standard three-act ballets sell more performances and at higher prices, there really should be more chance for audiences to see this wonderful new material.

Performances continue until March 14 — for details click here.

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