Posts Tagged ‘Alastair Marriott’

Firebird/ In the Night/ Raymonda Act III, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2012

30 December, 2012

What a terrific triple bill this is, and on the evening of 29 December it was beautifully danced.

Among cast changes in Raymonda, Zenaida Yanowsky and Ryoichi Hirano replaced Nuñez and Pennefather in the main roles, and Ricardo Cervera replaced Whitehead in the Hungarian dance. Cervera showed a fine cutting edge and dramatic sense, and his partnership with Kristin McNally worked like a charm, the two of them looking like dolls together in perfect time to the music. The dancers in the female variations, the same as before, were even better if that is possible. Hikaru Kobayashi showed beautiful control and musicality, Yuhui Choe’s arabesques en pointe with a bending of the leg were extraordinary, Itziar Mendizabal was lovely in the slow variation, and Helen Crawford’s jumps in the fourth variation were a thrill to watch.

Raymonda Act III, all images ROH/ Tristram Kenton

Raymonda Act III, all images ROH/ Tristram Kenton

As a ballet Raymonda has a rather silly story, but the Act III wedding of its eponymous heroine with Jean de Brienne, recently returned from the crusades, is a feast of dancing, and Yanowsky and Hirano were outstanding in these roles. I can’t resist a quick mention of Fumi Kaneko, Emma Maguire and Yasmine Nagdhi who were brilliantly on the music in the pas-de-trois. Raymonda Act III makes a glorious finale, and as the curtain opened Barry Kay’s ravishing set once again elicited spontaneous applause.

Galeazzi and Watson as Firebird and Prince

Galeazzi and Watson as Firebird and Prince

Firebird, so often the finale itself, is the starter here, with Mara Galeazzi showing beautiful arm movements as the Firebird. Edward Watson gave a well-nuanced performance as Ivan Tsarevich, Alastair Marriott was suitably dramatic as the wicked Kostcheï, and Christina Arestis was a gorgeous princess. The story is the reverse of Swan Lake, the prince abandoning his passion for an exotic female to accept a royal and more appropriate partner, but Stravinsky’s music is, or should be, hugely dramatic, though Barry Wordsworth’s conducting with its elegantly rounded corners lacked energy and bite.

No problem on that score with the second item, In the Night, where Robert Clark gave an excellent performance of Chopin’s nocturnes to accompany some glorious choreography by Jerome Robbins.

In the Night, Campbell and Maguire

In the Night, Campbell and Maguire

Against a starlit background, Alexander Campbell and Emma Maguire made a wonderful first couple, he so full of energy, she showing a gentle gracefulness. And in the third variation, Carlos Acosta and Roberta Marquez made a dramatic entrance on their shaft of light, moving apart and together with great passion. It was a super partnership, but in the second movement Zenaida Yanowsky and Nehemiah Kish did not manage the same success as a week ago. She seemed far less comfortable than with Hirano in Raymonda, and a couple of the lifts went slightly awry. In the Night ends with a delightful waltz, and interactions between the six dancers — it is a superb vehicle for the individual brilliance that this Company has in spades, and they should dance it more often.

In the Night, Yanowsky and Kish

In the Night, Yanowsky and Kish

Unfortunately all three later performances are sold out, but click here for details and possible returns.

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, July 2012

15 July, 2012

This triple bill, inspired by three Titian paintings currently on view at the National Gallery (Diana and CallistoDiana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon), is a tribute to Monica Mason who is retiring as artistic director of the Royal Ballet. The three ballets involved seven choreographers!

Nuñez as Diana with nymphs, all images ROH/ Johan Persson

The theme of the paintings finally came to life in the last ballet Diana and Actaeon, beautifully choreographed by Liam Scarlett, Will Tucket and Jonathan Watkins. Here we see Actaeon and his hounds, Diana and her nymphs, and witness the clash between them when he enters their space. The transformation scene where his purple hunting outfit converts to brown with dark legs, like a stag, was very well done, and when his hounds attack him, blood soaked pieces of ragged flesh appear round his haunches. The choreography was intriguingly inventive, and the pas-de-deux between Federico Bonelli as Actaeon, and Marianela Nuñez as Diana, amply expressed confusion on both sides until she finally takes command, and her nymphs come on to effect the transformation.

The set designs by Chris Ofili were fabulous, with bold colours expressing an otherworldly forest scene, reminiscent of Bakst’s dramatic designs for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Dramatic dancing too from the large cast, in which Bonelli and Nuñez were exceptional. Music by Jonathan Dove, beautifully conducted by Dominic Grier, was wonderfully expressive, and the singers Kim Sheehan and Andrew Rees were excellent. This final item of the triple bill will surely stand on its own in the future and I look forward to seeing it again.

Melissa Hamilton and others in Trespass

It was particularly welcome after the second item, Trespass, featuring dull choreography by Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon to some dreary music by Mark-Anthony Turnage, conducted by Barry Wordsworth. The dancers did their best with it, and the set design by Mark Wallinger featured a huge, curved, two-way mirror, apparently inspired by the idea that Diana is goddess of the moon, and that Actaeon is trespassing on a lunar landscape. The effect of the mirror probably depended where you sat, and I suspect the ballet looked far better from the Stalls, than the Amphi.

Machina/ Acosta and Benjamin

The first item, Machina, had a more direct appeal. Here was Diana represented by designer William Shawcross as a massive industrial robot, with a light at the end of its arm. Its arm movements were so interesting one could almost miss the dance choreography. Nico Muhly’s wonderful music, very well conducted by Tom Seligman, formed a fine basis for the choreography by Kim Brandstrup and Wayne McGregor, and the only problem, as in many of McGregor’s pieces was the distraction of the clever lighting. The huge robot with the light on its arm rather overwhelmed the dancers towards the end, and the lighting by Lucy Carter showed an intriguing use of shadows as the machine moved gradually from invisibility to superb clarity. The main dancers, Leanne Benjamin, Tamara Rojo, Carlos Acosta and Edward Watson were simply superb, exhibiting the choreography to huge advantage.

But where were the flowers for Tamara Rojo and Leanne Benjamin? Huge bouquets greeted the female principals in the other two works, but there were none here. This is becoming standard practice where Rojo is concerned, and if the Royal Ballet were a less confident company one might suspect some machinations behind the scenes, since Rojo is leaving to become Artistic Director of the ENB. Surely there is another reason, particularly since this was a great tribute to Monica Mason, who appeared on stage at the end looking absolutely delighted.

The next performance is a live relay on July 16 to BP big screens, and two other performances follow on July 17 and 20 — for details click here.

The Prince of the Pagodas, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, June 2012

3 June, 2012

King Lear meets Sleeping Beauty in this mid-1950s fairy tale creation by John Cranko, to music commissioned from Benjamin Britten. After the Cranko ballet fell out of the repertoire, Kenneth MacMillan made his own version in 1989. This revival now contains some cuts to the music that he originally intended, but was not permitted to make.

The central character is Princess Rose, who leaves her father’s court, his crown having been taken by her elder half-sister, Princess Épine. She travels to the Other World, conquers her fears and returns to re-enliven the king, put Épine to flight, and become betrothed once more to her prince.

Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish, all images Johan Persson

Marianela Nuñez was a serenely beautiful Princess Rose, who danced divinely, and Tamara Rojo was enormously powerful as the scheming Princess Épine. Nehemiah Kish as the prince made a fine partner for Nuñez, and gave a strong performance as the salamander whose form he takes, testing Rose’s ability to show compassion and move beyond mere platonic love.

Nuñez and Kish in Act II

The four kings from Acts I and III, who appear in nightmarish form in Act II, were superbly danced by Bennet Gartside (north), Valeri Hristov (east), Steven McRae (west) and Ricardo Cervera (south), and despite the disguising make-up, McRae’s wonderful dancing gave him away, and his camp portrayal was glorious. The big male solo role of the Fool, who guides Princess Rose, was brilliantly performed by Alexander Campbell, and the whole company danced beautifully. Alastair Marriott was excellent as the old king who, like Lear, is apportioning his kingdom to his daughters. His body language reminded me of the Red King in Checkmate, and his recovery when Rose reappears was superbly performed.

The fine designs by Nicholas Georgiardis are well lit by John B. Read, and we have Monica Mason to thank for a well-judged revival of this MacMillan ballet. The large orchestra under the baton of Barry Wordsworth was once again in top form after the recent Salome, and considering the huge amount of work and careful attention to detail by the team responsible for this production it is astonishing the Royal Opera House made such a mess of the flowers at the end. Nuñez received three lovely bouquets, while Rojo merely got a small bunch wrapped in paper. Embarrassing for the Company, and something of an insult to a superb dancer who is leaving soon to become artistic director of the English National Ballet. She will be sorely missed and the audience roared their approval at her solo curtain calls.

Performances continue until June 29 — for details click here.

Rhapsody, Sensorium, and Still Life at the Penguin Café, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, March 2011

17 March, 2011

Why were there empty seats? This is a wonderful Triple Bill, and the Royal Ballet gave a glorious performance, yet on the Grand Tier four boxes in a row were empty. All paid for no doubt, but unused for some of the finest dancing the Company can produce.

Steven McRae in Rhapsody, photo by Tristram Kenton

The evening started with Rhapsody to Rachmaninov’s well-known Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, a delightful ballet created by Frederick Ashton in 1980. He made it for Baryshnikov in the lead role, and the quick darting steps for the leading man were brilliantly executed here by Steven McRae — his pirouettes with jumps were terrific. Yet McRae was not alone in his fabulous performance, but beautifully partnered by Alina Cojocaru, who danced with consummate musicality. Barry Wordsworth in the orchestra pit breathed life into Rachmaninov’s music, particularly during the big pas-de-deux, and the whole cast responded with warmth. This was a super performance, and although Ms. Cojocaru got only a relatively small bouquet in the curtain calls, she and McRae received enormous applause, and fully deserved it.

Benjamin and Whitehead in Sensorium, photo by Johan Persson

Following this was Sensorium, a ballet by Alastair Marriott, first performed in May 2009. The music is Debussy, from his Preludes, and the way it captures light and shade is beautifully assisted by Adam Wiltshire’s simple designs along with lighting by John Read showing subtle changes of intensity and colour. The principal couples were Marianela Nuñez with Rupert Pennefather, and Leanne Benjamin with Thomas Whitehead, and they and the other ten supporting dancers gave a wonderfully controlled performance. The choreography doesn’t flow and excite in the way that Rhapsody does, but as the middle item in the programme it was just right before leading in to the exciting romp of Penguin Café.

Its title may say Still Life, but this extraordinary work by David Bintley is nothing if not full of movement, eloquently expressing the life and energy of animals who are being left behind in a changing world. Emma Maguire was charming in the first movement as the Great Auk, a type of penguin that became extinct in the nineteenth century, and Zenaida Yanowsky was in sparkling form in the second movement as the Utah Longhorn Ram, excellently partnered by Gary Avis. These largish animals are followed by the Texan Kangaroo Rat, danced with wonderful fluidity by James Hay, and then come the dancing fleas, with Iohna Loots dancing brightly as the skunk flea in orange. After that comes the large Southern Cape Zebra with his bevy of charming ladies, and Edward Watson portrayed him with great stage presence.

Steven McRae as the Monkey, photo by Tristram Kenton

Towards the end, Steven McRae burst in as the Brazilian Woolly Monkey, dancing up a storm with fabulous jumps and fluid movements. It’s a glorious ballet to watch, and the music by Stephen Jeffes is an eclectic mix of Charleston, ballroom, jazz, folk and Latin American, superbly conducted by Paul Murphy. I particularly loved the huge bounce he gave to the movement with the fleas, but it was all enormous fun.

This is a Triple Bill not to be missed. The company is doing an extraordinary job in putting on these evenings with three ballets, and the idea that there are empty seats in well-appointed boxes is appalling. There are five more performances, finishing on March 28 — for more details click here.

Cinderella with Rojo and Côté, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2010

4 December, 2010

For a description of the production, see my earlier review of a superb performance in November. This was a second view, in which we had Tamara Rojo as Cinderella, with guest artist Guillaume Côté from the National Ballet of Canada as her prince.

Tamara Rojo as Cinderella, photo by Bill Cooper

Tamara Rojo — a superbly accomplished ballerina — made a strong start with a somewhat minx-like portrayal, rather than being a poor ingénue, but she was insufficiently matched by Jonathan Howells and Alastair Marriott as the step-sisters in Act I. They got off to a rather mechanical start, and though things greatly improved in the Act II ball scene, the humour in their roles never fully came over. The performance as a whole took some time to warm up, but in Act II, Rojo and Côté, surrounded by the ‘dancing stars’ gave a display of classical ballet at its best. Ashton was a master of large ensemble dances and this was magical.

Act I also had its moments, particularly after Francesca Filpi as the fairy godmother introduced the Seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter (danced by Emma Maguire, Hikaru Kobayashi, Samantha Raine and Itziar Mendizabal). This forms a wonderful interlude after the real world has been swept away and replaced by the realm of magic for the remainder of the Act. Ms. Kobayashi was wonderfully warm and fluid as Summer, and Ms. Mendizabal showed great musicality in her dancing of Winter.

Paul Kay as the Jester, photo by Tristram Kenton

Guillaume Côté made a perfect prince in Act II partnering very well with Tamara Rojo, and Paul Kay danced the jester with perfect timing, jumping as if he were made of nothing more than the wit and charm he represented. Along with the principal couple, he was the star of the evening. Act III was beautifully executed by Rojo and Côté, and she gave a fine portrayal of the poor girl who retained the slipper matching the one she dropped in rushing away from the ball. Her sudden transformation there, from beauty to rags, was very well done, as were all the transformations in this production by Wendy Somes. It’s a delightful representation of Prokofiev’s imaginative score, very well conducted by Pavel Sorokin, and no matter which cast you see it’s an evening to savour.

Further performances are scheduled for December 9, 13, 17, 21, 28, 29 and 31 — for details click here. If you cannot get tickets, another run takes place around the Easter period — April 7, 10, 12, 13, 16, 19, 23, 25, and May 3 and 6, though booking is not yet open.

Cinderella, Royal Ballet, 17 April 2010

18 April, 2010

Frederick Ashton’s choreography gives full power to the fairy tale aspect of the story, and when Cinderella enters the ball in Act II she comes down the stairs en pointe. This gives an ethereal quality to her transfer from the world of enchantment to the human world where her frightful stepsisters cavort around in their garish costumes, hoping to attract a prince whose taste is far above theirs. In this performance, Yuhui Choe danced Cinderella with exceptional charm and refinement. Her elegant footwork and sympathetic body language marks her out as an exceptional future performer of this role.

If this ballet is mainly about Cinderella herself — and it is — there is still plenty of dancing to watch.

Jonathan Howells and Alastair Marriott as the step-sisters, photo Bill Cooper

Alastair Marriott and Jonathan Howells played the obnoxious step-sisters with great wit — Howells as the taller sister was a hoot, but never over the top. Sergei Polunin was a handsome prince and danced extremely well in this difficult role — he’s only 20 but is already a fast rising star in the Company, well worth watching in any role they give him. Francesca Filpi was a lovely fairy godmother, and Fernando Montaño was suitably acrobatic as the Jester, though I prefer a stronger stage presence. As the fairies we had Elizabeth Harrod as Spring, Hikaru Kobayashi as Summer, Samantha Raine as Autumn, and Claire Calvert as Winter. All danced well but Ms Kobayashi was exceptional as Summer — dreamy and languidly warm.

This production by Wendy Ellis Somes has been criticised for the costumes and even the sets, but I think most of this criticism is unwarranted, and there are some nice touches such as the coach appearing fully on-stage as Ashton originally wished, but couldn’t manage with the smaller space available at the time. The lighting by Mark Jonathan is excellent, and I liked the rotating speckled effect that covers the whole auditorium during the overture. It helps to engage the audience in the forthcoming stage magic. I only wish the transformation from old crone to fairy godmother in Act I were done on-stage, as was once the case. Instead the shadow of the old crone reappears outside the house, and then the fairy godmother enters through the door.

Act III, photo by Bill Cooper

Production and dancing aside this ballet would be nothing without the music, and as soon as the first bars emerged from the orchestra I was entranced. Pavel Sorokin produced excellent lyricism and tension from Prokofiev’s score, and it was an enormous relief to have a good conductor in the pit. Unfortunately he dropped the tempo at some points, particularly with the stepsisters and their father at the beginning of Act I, which forced their movements to be far too sluggish. But Sorokin is evidently a capable conductor, which makes a pleasant change. The Royal Ballet has tolerated some lacklustre conducting recently, particularly in full-length ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, so let us hope this is a permanent change for the better. The company’s dancing is superb, and deserves equally fine musical support.

Review — The Tsarina’s Slippers, Royal Opera, November 2009

21 November, 2009

This little-known Tchaikovsky opera is based on a tale by Gogol called Christmas Eve, a time of the year when witches were abroad, and demonic forces had to be tamed. In this story it’s achieved through youthful energy and a sense of fun, as Vakula the smith cunningly uses and circumvents these dangerous magical forces. They enable him to acquire the Tsarina’s slippers, a heroic task that his beloved Oxana challenges him to achieve if he wants to marry her. The basic story — boy gets girl — appears here in a phantasmagorical setting where the young man’s mother is a witch whose admirers include the schoolmaster, the mayor, and the devil himself.

This sparkling production by Francesca Zambello has lovely set designs by Mikhail Mokrov, and very colourful costumes by Tatiana Noginova, with lighting design by Rick Fisher. It includes serious ballet work, some electrifying Cossack dances and acrobatics, plus court dances for the opera chorus, all choreographed by Alastair Marriott. The second half, comprising Acts III and IV, is wonderful fun; the Cossack dancers were absolutely terrific, and Gary Avis and Mara Galeazzi of the Royal Ballet did some lovely pas-de-deux work.

Musically it all worked very well under the baton of Alexander Polianichko, who drew strong contributions from the wind section, and a very Russian sound from the orchestra. As to the singers, Larissa Diadkova was predictably excellent as Solokha the witch, with Maxim Mikhailov vocally and physically lively as the devil. The bass role for the elderly Cossack, Chub was wonderfully sung and acted by Vladimir Matorin, and Vakula was very strongly performed by Vsevolod Grivnov, making a superb debut at Covent Garden. Chub’s daughter Oxana was sung by Olga Guryakova, also making her debut at Covent Garden, but her powerful voice was regrettably screechy at times. This was altogether a fine cast, and Sergei Leiferkus sang glowingly in the relatively small role of ‘his highness’, who provides Vakula with the Tsarina’s slippers.

It’s a new production that should appeal to anyone with an appreciation for Tchaikovsky, Russian opera, or indeed magical realism in the great Slavic tradition. The only problem is that it was sold out before the first night!

Les Sylphides, Sensorium, The Firebird, Royal Ballet, 21 May 2009, return visit

22 May, 2009

Firebird–banner

This was a return visit to see a performance with a different cast. Here is the link to the earlier review of the first night.

This time Les Sylphides featured David Makhateli and Tamara Rojo as the principal couple, backed up by Yuhui Choe in the waltz, Helen Crawford in the Mazurka, and the same leading sylphs as before. All were very good, as was the corps, but I thought Rojo and Choe were outstanding. The conducting by Barry Wordsworth was very slow at the beginning, though it picked up tempo later, but the trouble is that his work lacks incision and edge — it is just mellifluous and laboured, or in a single word, dull.

In the other cast for Alastair Marriott’s new ballet Sensorium, to music by Debussy, we had Mara Galeazzi with Bennet Gartside, and Melissa Hamilton with Gary Avis as the main couples. The lighting worked well this time, and the designs by Adam Wiltshire were excellent as before, with white leotards for the principal ladies and light peacock blue for the others. The cast seemed very much in tune with the ballet, and Melissa Hamilton was simply wonderful. It’s astonishing that she’s a mere 21 years old.

The Firebird was once again a blaze of colour, and the corps were terrific. This time we had Leanne Benjamin as a very fine firebird, with Edward Watson as the Tsarevich, Genesia Rosato as the Tsarevna, and Christopher Saunders as the immortal Kostcheï. All did well, and Saunders was very strong in this part, which seems to suit him better than some of the other roles I’ve seen him do.

Les Sylphides, Sensorium, The Firebird, Royal Ballet, May 2009

5 May, 2009

Firebird–banner

This was a lovely triple bill, with a new ballet by Alastair Marriott sandwiched between two well-known works by Mikhail Fokine.

The first item, Les Sylphides was very well danced, with Johan Kobborg and Yuhui Choe doing an excellent job as the principal couple. They were backed up by Laura Morera in the waltz, Lauren Cuthbertson in the Mazurka, and Iohna Loots and Bethany Keating as leading sylphs, not all I’m afraid as musical as Yuhui Choe. But with good technique it’s difficult to go wrong with Fokine’s glorious choreography and Chopin’s wonderful music.

Sensorium, choreographed by Alastair Marriott to music of Debussy, was a sensuous and cleanly performed dance work that lasted almost half and hour, and didn’t flag for a minute. The costumes were simple leotards for the girls and full length leotards for the two men, Thomas Whitehead who danced with Leanne Benjamin, and Rupert Pennefather who partnered Alexandra Ansanelli. All danced well, as did the ten girls who backed them up, and Pennefather in particular showed a lovely line, and very clean technique. One fault was that dancers moving across the front of the stage were in the dark, but otherwise the lighting, designed by John Read, gave just the right texture for this work.

Finally The Firebird was a terrific show of colour, with Mara Galeazzi heavily made up for the part of this magical bird. Her dancing however seemed to lack fluidity, and Thiago Soares as the Tsarevich did not cut as strong a figure as he might. But Elizabeth McGorian was a lovely Tsarevna, and Gary Avis was simply superb as the immortal Kostcheï. The supporting cast did a very fine job, and this might have been a successful Firebird were it not marred by Barry Wordsworth’s sloppy conducting — the music is Stravinsky and should sound like it.