Archive for the ‘Serenade’ Category

Royal Ballet Triple: Asphodel Meadows, Enigma Variations, Gloria, Covent Garden, November 2011

20 November, 2011

The first and last items on this excellent programme are to music by Poulenc, and both these two ballets — though not the music — deal with death. In an announcement at the start of the evening, a request was made for no applause during Gloria. As a result the audience seemed hesitant about applauding the first item, Asphodel Meadows, though several people applauded, more than once, during the third item, Gloria, before being shushed by others. How much better if the Royal Opera House had saved the announcement until just before Gloria!

Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera, photo Johan Persson

The revival of Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows, which had its premiere in May 2010, is most welcome. The music is Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra, danced by an ensemble of fourteen plus three principal couples, one for each movement of the concerto. The first pair of principals, Rupert Pennefather and Marianela Nunez in brown, showed immense emotion in their movements, and their pas-de-deux in the slow middle section of the first movement was beautifully done. Tamara Rojo and Bennett Gartside in charcoal danced the Larghetto, and Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera in burgundy the Allegro of the third movement. Flawless dancing of great musicality, and Tamara Rojo in particular was striking in her superb control. The ensemble work was excellent, and this was a perfect start to an evening ending with the bleak World War I retrospective of Gloria, as the meadows of asphodel appear in Homer’s Odyssey (Book XI, line 539), where Odysseus travels to Hades and encounters the shades of dead heroes.

Carlos Acosta in Gloria, Dee Conway

Poulenc’s Gloria in G, in praise of God, was used by Kenneth MacMillan for this elegy to those whose lives were lost or blighted by the Great War. Andy Klunder’s fine designs show the men with helmets, though their uniforms and flesh have been torn off, and the metal-frame ruin over a trench is a stark reminder of a wasteland of death where ghostly men and women emerge from the horizon. Sarah Lamb was beautifully moving as the woman in mourning, well partnered by Thiago Soares, and Laura Morera was the fearless girl, tossed about by Valeri Hristov, Kenta Kura and Johannes Stepanek. The ballet is based on Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, and the female soloists both reflect aspects of her personality. She lost her lover and her brother during the war, and Carlos Acosta was superb in his solo role, showing a fierce intensity in his portrayal. His solos were gripping, and as the sole figure on stage at the end he pauses, and suddenly drops out of sight behind the abyss.

Enigma Variations, photo Dee Conway

Sandwiched between these two memorials to the victims of war, performed less than two weeks after Armistice Day, was Ashton’s brilliant ballet to Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Christopher Saunders portrayed Elgar himself, with Christina Arestis as his wife. Her fluidity of body language was pure Ashton, and a joy to watch. Nehemiah Kish and Lara Turk were well cast as the contemplative scholar subduing his emotions, and the young romantic girl with whom he’s in love, and this genteel pas-de-deux is followed by a complete contrast with Edward Watson giving a remarkable performance of the difficult and demanding Troyte variation. One contrast follows another, and Bennet Gartside was a finely understated Jaeger in the Nimrod variation, followed by Roberta Marquez as Dorabella. Her body and arm movements were beautiful in this fiendishly difficult solo, though some musicality was lacking, and José Martín was enormous fun in the bulldog solo. In the end it was Christopher Saunders and Christina Arestis who framed this ballet so beautifully, and the evening was well conducted by Barry Wordsworth.

This is a triple bill not to miss. Performances continue until November 30 — for details click here.

Homage to Balanchine, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House, August 2009

13 August, 2009

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In this triple bill the first item was Serenade, to Tchaikovky’s Serenade in C major for strings. It was Balanchine’s first composition in America, which he created at a series of evening classes in New York, and it starts with seventeen girls because that was the number that came to the first class. One girl arrived late, another fell over, and these incidents were incorporated in the ballet. The main couple, Viktoria Tereshkina and Evgeny Ivanchenko, were the principals in Swan Lake last Saturday evening, and here they danced well together, with excellent partnering from Ivanchenko. The other dancers also did a fine job, but while some ballets can be seen with pleasure innumerable times, this, for me, is not one of them, so let us move on to the next item.

Rubies is the second part of a full evening ballet called Jewels, and I’d prefer to see it in context. The music is a Capriccio for piano and orchestra by Stravinsky, and the ballet is a racy piece. The main couple was Irina Golub with Vladimir Shklyarov, who was a fine Romeo on the Mariinsky’s opening night last week. The second woman was Ekaterina Kondaurova, and she and the lead couple take turns to dance with the ensemble. It all worked well enough, but I felt no buzz, and the audience was lukewarm. What really made the evening work, however, was the third item.

Symphony in C. This ballet in four movements is to Bizet’s Symphony No. 1, and is a blaze of action, with colourful tutus for the soloists. It is designed to show off a classical ballet company, and its original title, when Balanchine created it in 1947 in Paris, was Palais de Cristal. In each of the four movements there is a principal couple, two male and two female soloists, and a corps de ballet. At the end all dancers appear in a final tableau. This evening the main couples were Viktoria Tereshkina with Denis Matvienko, Uliana Lopatkina with Daniil Korsuntsev, Elena Evseeva with Filipp Stepin, and Evgenia Obraztsova with Alexei Timofeyev. The soloists were not named. The whole thing went off to great effect, and I thought Uliana Lopatkina and Daniil Korsuntsev were outstanding. But to pick out one couple seems unfair when it was such a fine team of dancers, and more musical than anything I have seen so far.

The orchestra was very well conducted by Pavel Bubelnikov, and the piano solo in Rubies was played by Ludmila Sveshnikova. It is good to hear Stravinsky sound like Stravinsky, which has sadly not always been the case with one of the Royal Ballet conductors, and a particularly egregious example occurred in Apollo during a triple bill from March 2007.

Review — Serenade, Enigma Variations, and Still Life at the Penguin Café, Birmingham Royal Ballet, April 2009

15 April, 2009

This triple bill, titled Pomp and Circumstances, was brilliantly danced by the company, with the music beautifully played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the baton of Philip Ellis, who showed great sympathy to both music and dancers.

Balanchine’s Serenade was very well done, though the ‘accidental’ fall towards the end looked a bit too contrived, particularly since the girl loosened her hair so carefully first. But the presentation was clean and Tchaikovsky’s music came over well.

Enigma Variations by Frederick Ashton was fun as usual, with Jonathan Payne and Victoria Marr as Elgar and his wife. The cast did an excellent job: Carol-Anne Millar was a fine Dorabella, with superb chainé turns at the end, James Grundy was very funny in his solo as WMB, and Matthew Lawrence and Natasha Oughtred were a lovely young couple as RPA and Ysobel, to say nothing of the other principals. Again the music was delightfully played under the baton of Philip Ellis.

Finally, Bintley’s  Still Life at the Penguin Café was a rip roaring success. The music by Simon Jeffes is wonderful fun, and the dancing was terrific. Laura Purkiss as the Great Auk started the show with aplomb, and Angela Paul was a beautifully musical Ram, well partnered by Robert Parker, giving us a cabaret act not to be missed. Christopher Larsen was equally musical in his wonderful solo as the Texan Kangaroo Rat, and Carol-Anne Millar was a superb Flea. Chi Cao was the zebra, very well supported by his ladies, including Angela Paul who had changed costumes from being the ram, and changed back again for the finale.

Altogether this was a marvellous triple bill with a great many dancers doing a great many things. Congratulations to the Birmingham Royal Ballet.