Posts Tagged ‘Ballet’

Giselle, Royal Ballet, live relay from Covent Garden, January 2011

20 January, 2011

This two-act ballet creates a wonderful dichotomy between daylight and night-time. Act I is set in the everyday world, but the second act takes place in world of the wilis, spirits of dead maidens who rise up and destroy any young man they encounter. The story is straightforward. Count Albrecht, disguised as a peasant, wins the heart of Giselle, displacing her previous lover Hilarion. But Hilarion unmasks Albrecht and the shock devastates Giselle, who dies. Both men visit her grave at night and encounter the wilis. Hilarion they destroy, but Giselle helps Albrecht to live until dawn when the power of the wilis fades away. As they leave the stage, Albrecht tries to grasp the wraith that was Giselle, but she eludes him and vanishes.

Nuñez as Giselle in Act 1, photos by Johan Persson

The story lends itself to psychological interpretation, but this is ballet, not opera, and there is no gimmickry. The choreography and the music amply express the emotions and it’s up to the dancers to exhibit it all. On this occasion Marianela Nuñez gave a charming performance as Giselle, particularly in Act I where her main solo was beautifully danced, and her mad scene was a mixture of heartfelt sincerity and abject anguish. She was superbly partnered by Rupert Pennefather who showed a lovely line, well expressing his noble station in life. Gary Avis gave us a strong portrayal of Hilarion, and Genesia Rosato was excellent as Giselle’s mother, Berthe, an important character whose mime sequences express so much. That’s where a first view of this ballet is not enough because it’s not possible to grasp the significance of the mime gestures at first sight. Unfortunately stage performance has largely lost the language of mime, yet Berthe clearly explains about the wilis and their power over young men who carelessly strut their way through life.

But it’s not all mime, and there’s plenty of dancing in Act I, which was beautifully performed. The pas-de-six was headed Yuhui Choe and Ricardo Cervera; she was glorious as usual, and I found his musicality outstanding. Anyone seeing this ballet for the first time might miss the significance of the sword and the hunting horn, but Hilarion clearly compares the crests and realises Albrecht is of the same household as the noble hunting party. When he forces this knowledge on Giselle she goes crazy, and after a short mad scene she dies.

Nuñez and Pennefather in Act 2

In Act II, Helen Crawford was a fine queen of the wilis, with her big jumps and sense of command, well assisted by Yuhui Choe and Sian Murphy as her attendants. Pennefather and Nuñez were very good together, and I only wish that at the start of their first encounter in the woods the music had not been at such a lifeless tempo, forcing them to move in such slow motion. Apart from this one moment, Koen Kessels’ conducting was full of energy and emotion. It was notably better than the previous week, which was, I suppose, due to extra rehearsals for this live relay. If that’s the case then let us hope the ballet conductors can get more time with the orchestra in future because it makes a big difference to the performance.

This production by Peter Wright makes Giselle one of the strongest ballets in the Company’s classical repertoire, and the updated lighting by David Finn for Act II is wonderfully atmospheric. It conveys the ghostliness of the wilis and their world, which is essential to the story.

Performances with a variety of different casts continue until February 19 — for a review of another cast click here, and for details of further performances click here.

Giselle with Benjamin and Watson, Royal Ballet, January 2011

16 January, 2011

Giselle is a jewel in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire, and this production by Peter Wright carefully preserves the nineteenth century mime sequences in Act I, where Giselle’s mother warns about the legend of the wilis who will capture some carefree young fellow and make him dance to his death. The young Count Albrecht, sowing his wild oats disguised as a peasant, wins Giselle’s heart, but his wooing raises a passion that destroys her, though as a spirit in Act II she finally saves him from being destroyed by the wilis.

The Wilis in Act II, photo by Bill Cooper

As Giselle herself, Leanne Benjamin was excellent in the Act I mad scene when she learns that her lover has tricked her and betrayed his own fiancée, but her performance in Act II was really superb when, light as a feather, she invested the wraith of Giselle with a wonderfully ethereal quality. Her rejected lover Hilarion was superbly portrayed by Johannes Stepanek, showing a fine firmness and resolve in Act I, only to fall foul of forces beyond his control as the wilis dance him to death in Act II. Giselle’s lover Albrecht was danced by Edward Watson, and much though I admire him in other ballets he lacked the insouciance I associate with this role. As queen of the wilis, Itziar Mendizabal was suitably cold, but lacked the heartless dominance that should come from her big jumps and imperious stage presence.

The corps de ballet performed well in both acts, and the leading wilis Moyna and Zulme in Act II were beautifully danced by Yuhui Choe and Sian Murphy. The Act I scenes came over very well, with an excellent pas-de-six headed by Yuhui Choe and Kenta Kura, who showed his stunning talent for appearing to float in the air. Deidre Chapman gave a fine performance of the extensive mime scenes as Giselle’s mother, and Johannes Stepanek’s observations of Albrecht’s missing sword and his eventual discovery of his rival’s identity was carried through to perfection.

Good conducting by Koen Kessels, who is in the orchestra pit for all the January performances, and next week I shall report on a different cast featuring Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather. Performances with a variety of different casts continue until February 19 — for more details click here.

Romeo and Juliet, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2011

6 January, 2011

Just to make sure we understand the fateful denouement, four figures of fate appear at the beginning and end, but apart from this, and the final reconciliation between Capulets and Montagues, it’s Shakespeare with Prokofiev’s glorious music. The choreography by Rudolf Nureyev lacks the understatement of Kenneth Macmillan’s version, but fully makes up for it in masculine strength and bravado, coupled with sheer inventiveness that helps define the characters of Juliet and her cousin Tybalt, along with Romeo and Mercutio on the Montague side.

Daria Klimentova and Vadim Mutagirov, photo by Annabel Moeller

The dancing was superb indeed. Vadim Mutagirov made a wonderfully elegant Romeo, and danced like a god. Daria Klimentova as his Juliet played the role to perfection, and her evident dislike of Daniel Kraus’s anxious and clingy Paris came over very well, particularly her distress with the wedding dress in Act III. Juliet’s fondness for Tybalt is expressed in a brief pas-de-deux in Act I, and Fabian Reimair was the kind of Tybalt one could almost feel sorry for — a fiery impulsive young man whose skill with the sword is insufficient to match his angry intentions. Juliet’s shock and lamentation at his death was wracked with emotion. Max Westwell danced strongly as Benvolio, and Juan Rodriguez was superb as Mercutio in a role that is played partly as a comic act but with an added sense of drama when he is mortally wounded by Tybalt, and his friends see his death throes as mere play-acting, which they applaud. Rodriguez — a last minute replacement for Yat-Sen Chang — was entirely convincing in the role, and Paul Lewis was outstanding as Lord Capulet, showing perfect timing and fine musicality. The whole cast danced beautifully, both in the solo parts and the ensemble pieces.

Nureyev’s choreography gives a real edge to the fight scenes, and the punch-up in Act I sets the stage for the extraordinary enmity we witness between two feuding families. He first created the production for this company — known then as the London Festival Ballet — in 1977, dancing the role of Romeo himself. This revival is staged by Patricia Ruanne and Frederic Jahn, who were the original Juliet and Tybalt. It has a thrilling energy, just like Nureyev himself, and is only slightly undermined by the frequent changes of scene, and the dream sequences. The dancers are all utterly committed to acting their roles, and I only wish the Company would get rid of those supers who appear front-stage at the sides in Act II, spoiling the body language expressed by the rest of the cast.

Prokofiev’s music has been slightly rearranged, partly so that additional parts of the story can be expressed, such as the attack on Friar John who carries Lawrence’s letter to Romeo in Mantua. The news of Juliet’s apparent death is brought to Romeo by Benvolio, and the arpeggios that express Juliet’s frenzied frustration in Act III before she consults Friar Lawrence, reappear here to express Romeo’s appalling distress, along with very physical choreography between him and Benvolio. There is much to enjoy and absorb in this fine production, and Gavin Sutherland brought out the power and beauty of the music after a sluggish start during the introduction.

Performances continue until January 15 — for more details click here.

Peter and the Wolf/ Les Patineurs/ Tales of Beatrix Potter, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, December 2010

15 December, 2010

The Royal Ballet are delivering wonderful fare this Christmas and New Year, not just with Cinderella, but in two double bills containing Frederick Ashton’s Tales of Beatrix Potter. The first combines it with Matthew Hart’s Peter and the Wolf, and the second with Ashton’s Les Patineurs.

Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle with a country mouse, photos by Tristram Kenton

In 1971 Ashton choreographed Tales of Beatrix Potter for film, bringing to life a menagerie of well-loved characters from Potter’s glorious children’s stories, and in 1992 Anthony Dowell put it all on stage. It’s delightful stuff, bringing to life characters such as Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Jemima Puddle-Duck and the sly Fox, Jeremy Fisher, Squirrel Nutkin, and heaps more, not to mention the mice. The town mice, the little country mice, and those Two Bad Mice who tear up the dolls’ house. It’s wonderful fun, and the music put together by John Lanchbery is absolutely delightful.

Somehow the choreography allows the dancers to bestow convincing personalities on the animals, despite the fact that they perform wearing the huge heads of Rostislav Doboujinsky’s spectacular masks. These brilliantly portray the essence of the Beatrix Potter’s remarkable drawings — she was a hugely talented artist — and the designs by Christine Edzard take us into the various worlds the animals inhabit. This ballet is a treat, and a perfect complement to either Peter and the Wolf, or Les Patineurs.

Peter and the Wolf — a well-known composition by Prokofiev for orchestra and narrator — was turned it into ballet by Matthew Hart in 1995, and is now being revived. Prokofiev’s words and music are brilliantly brought to life by Hart’s choreography and Ian Spurling’s colourful designs. This is much more fun than simply listening to the music and narration, and what a marvellous introduction to choreography and music it is for any child. Will Kemp is superb as the narrator and grandfather — he has enormous presence, and his voice and movements are riveting. Sergei Polunin gives a strong portrayal of the Wolf, and the other solo parts — Peter, the Duck, the Bird, and the Cat — are beautifully performed by Students of the Royal Ballet School.

Les Patineurs is a perennial Ashton delight that has hardly been out of the Royal Ballet’s repertory since its first performance in February 1937. Its flowing choreography and buoyant mood is supported by lovely music from Meyerbeer’s operas, arranged by Constant Lambert. William Chappell’s designs give just the right touch of colour, and the Boy in Blue was beautifully danced by Paul Kay.

As I attended a dress rehearsal, and the casts for Patineurs and Beatrix Potter will change, I’ll make little comment on individual performances, but I loved Yuhui Choe’s dancing and musicality in Patineurs, and in Beatrix Potter I was very taken with the portrayals of Pigling Bland by Jonathan Howells, and Jeremy Fisher by Ryoichi Hirano, though of course all the performers are rendered virtually anonymous by the masks.

Paul Murphy conducted and will continue the run for both programmes. The double bill with Peter and the Wolf continues until December 18th — click here for details; the other double bill runs from December 20th to January 10th — click here for details.

Nutcracker, English National Ballet, ENB at the London Coliseum, December 2010

11 December, 2010

Nutcracker is based on a story by E. T. A. Hoffmann that beautifully interweaves the real world with the magical world, all under the enchanting influence of Clara’s godfather Drosselmeyer. On the other hand Tchaikovsky’s ballet creates a greater distinction between the two worlds, and linking them more intimately is a potential challenge for any production. This one by Wayne Eagling involves some interesting ideas. For example, the mouse king is not killed in Act I but lives on into Act II, clinging to the carriage of a balloon that takes Clara and the Nutcracker away from the snow scene at the end of the first Act. He’s then killed during the second Act in a small theatre on stage, which serves as a background for the character dances.

In the Hoffmann original the Nutcracker is a magical version of Drosselmeyer’s nephew, a feature represented in Eagling’s production by having the two characters interchange on stage several times. For instance during a pas-de-trois for Nutcracker, Drosselmeyer and Clara, the Nutcracker transforms into the nephew and dances with her alone. And rather than having Clara as an onlooker during the festivities of Act II, she is a participant, coming on during the Arabian dance to release a prisoner from bondage, and later dancing with her prince as if she were the sugar plum fairy. The Spanish, Chinese, and Russian dances, along with the dance of the flowers, are of the usual type, but the dance of the mirlitons becomes a pas-de-quatre for three boys and a girl who represents a butterfly that eventually falls prey to Drosselmeyer’s net. These aspects of the production help to link the real and the magical, but I missed any representation of the Mother Ginger episode whose music I love. I also missed the final bars at the end, which were cut to leave everything quietly as it was in the prologue, with the exterior of the parents’ house on stage, and Clara and her brother creeping out for some fresh air.

The prologue — during the orchestral overture — started very well with ice skaters in front of the parents’ house, but Act I didn’t really gel on the first night. Things warmed up in Act II and the pas-de-deux between Daria Klimentova as Clara, and Vadim Muntagirov as her prince, was terrific. His lines were beautifully clean and their dancing had real élan. There were also some wonderful performances in the character dances particularly Shiori Kase in the Chinese dance, and the leading flowers Begoña Cao and Sarah McIlroy with their partners Daniel Kraus and James Forbat danced beautifully.

The designs by Peter Farmer gave a sense of solidity to the real world, and a lightness of touch to the magical. The Christmas tree grew while the mice were dancing and then transformed itself into a snow-covered tree for the rest of Act I. This is a Nutcracker interweaving the real and the magical, though the first night may not have shown it to best advantage, and the orchestral playing under the baton of Gavin Sutherland seemed a little uneven. It will surely settle down later, and performances continue until December 30 — 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, Covent Garden, November 2010

21 November, 2010

One of the lovely things about Ashton’s Cinderella is the intermingling of the real world with the magical world. This makes it ideal for Christmas or Easter, when everyday life for many people is invested with a little magic.

Marianela Nuñez as Cinderella, photos by Tristram Kenton

Act I starts with poor Cinderella by the fire, and the party preparations of her ridiculous step-sisters. An old crone comes begging and the poor girl’s sympathy for her is rewarded when the old woman reappears . . . and the magic starts. One transformation follows another: the crone turns into a fairy godmother, she causes the house to disappear, and then ushers in the fairies of spring, summer, autumn and winter, with the sets transforming between each one. The soloists on this first night (Iohna Loots, Yuhui Choe, Samantha Raine and Hikaru Kobayashi) all did well, and Choe was outstandingly warm and musical as Summer. So many transformations in a single Act, yet there is one more to come as the pumpkin turns into a coach, which then takes a beautifully transformed Cinderella off to the ball.

Rupert Pennefather as the Prince

In Act II the real and magical worlds alternate, and Rupert Pennefather as the prince seems to inhabit both, as does Paul Kay as a brilliantly acrobatic jester. Those ugly sisters now reappear, and when Cinderella later comes on looking like a princess, Gary Avis as the taller sister casts an embarrassing glance at his own garish costume. He and Philip Mosley interacted superbly with one another as the sisters, and Avis was gloriously over the top without ever descending into pantomime or farce. The comic timing was perfect. On the magical side, Laura Morera was a lovely fairy godmother, and Marianela Nuñez was wonderful as Cinderella, both as a simple house-slave and as the queen of the ball — a true fairy-tale character.

This production by Wendy Somes contains some clever ideas such as the moon transforming into a clock in Act I when the fairy godmother warns that the spell will break at midnight, and then the clock in the ball scene — invisible from the Amphitheatre — shows itself in the lighting on the dance-floor so the whole audience can see it. The transformation of Cinderella’s clothes from a brilliant white tutu to rags is done in a split second, and the poor girl flees as the curtains close.

Paul Kay as the Jester

Act III again mixes the mundane and the magical, and some clever effects are achieved with Mark Jonathan’s lighting. I like the dappled pink effect in the auditorium during the overture, and the dappled white at the end, as the prince and his bride recede into the distance. For an evening of enchantment you won’t do better. Ashton’s choreography is magical — the fairy-tale entrance of Cinderella to the ball as she comes down the stairs en pointe in ethereal splendour, the brilliant asymmetry of the twelve stars … one could go on and on.

Prokofiev’s score was beautifully conducted by Pavel Sorokin, and further performances are scheduled for November 24, 27 and December 2, 3, 9, 13, 17, 21, 28, 29 and 31. Other dancers in the role of Cinderella are: Yuhui Choe, Roberta Marquez, Tamara Rojo and Lauren Cuthbertson — for more details click here, though tickets seem to be almost entirely sold out. If you miss it in 2010, another run of performances is arranged around the Easter period — April 7, 10, 12, 13, 16, 19, 23, 25, and May 3 and 6, but booking is not yet open.

Onegin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2010

8 October, 2010

This was a second view of John Cranko’s wonderful ballet during the present run, this time with an entirely different cast of principals: Federico Bonelli and Laura Morera as Onegin and Tatiana, Sergei Polunin and Melissa Hamilton as Lensky and Olga, and Gary Avis as Prince Gremin. For my previous review of the first night cast of Kobborg/ Cojacaru/ McRae/ Takada/ Gartside click here. Both casts were terrific — each in its own way unbeatable — but I’ll avoid comparisons and simply report on the present one.

At the beginning of Act I, Melissa Hamilton as Olga moved with wonderful grace, and she and Polunin seemed made for one another. Their joyful dancing together made Onegin’s attempt to break them apart all the more poignant, and Bonelli’s superb aloofness and disdain in the role of Onegin showed there was no question of his flirting with Olga just to teach Lensky how shallow she is. No, this was a devilish trick by a bored young man. His tearing up of Tatiana’s letter was a masterpiece of cool rudeness, and his pirouettes before the duel showed furious emotion.

Laura Morera as Tatiana showed great emotional sincerity, and her beautiful movements in the dream pas-de-deux of Act I made an enchanting impression, sadly spoiled by one audience member whose repeated emotional outbursts had nothing to do with the dancing. Fortunately there was nothing to spoil her final pas-de-deux with Onegin before she throws him out of her dressing room. Add to that a wonderful pas-de-deux at the ball with Gary Avis, and you have a remarkable performance of Tatiana’s role. Avis showed superb stage presence, as ever, and made an unbeatable Prince Gremin. His charming re-introduction of Onegin and Tatiana in Act III, before he sweeps her out of the room, was a masterpiece of skilful timing and savoir faire. The whole performance was excellent, but the main accolades must go to Bonelli and Morera who played their roles with consummate technique and musicality.

The music by Kurt-Heinz Stolze, based on Tchaikovsky, was well played by the orchestra under the baton of Barry Wordsworth, and five further performances are scheduled for October 9, 12, 13, 20, 25.

Onegin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, September 2010

1 October, 2010

One loves while the other turns away — it can go in either direction, and here it goes in both.

Cojocaru and Kobborg in the final pas-de-deux

One way in Act I, and the reverse in Act III, where Tatiana finally turns away from Onegin, tearing up his letter, just as he originally tore up hers. This letter tearing is part of John Cranko’s adaptation of Pushkin’s original story, and works well as long as it’s not over-dramatised on stage. Here, Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru effected these rejections superbly, and their dancing showed a subtle tension between them, without ever over-reaching into unnecessary pathos. The pas-de-deux of the dream sequence in Act I, when Tatiana writes her letter and falls asleep, was danced with magical abandon, and her balance was perfect as he turned away from her at the end. And their final pas-de-deux in Act III was a wonderful mixture of tension and romantic yearning.

Steven McRae was outstanding in Lensky’s solo before the duel, his lassitude creating a poignant image of a man who has taken a fatally wrong turning. And Akane Takada portrayed the pretty, but empty-headed Olga to perfection. She played well to Kobborg’s playfully haughty intervention in Act I, and he portrayed the presence and aloofness we expect of Onegin. Bennet Gartside was an admirable Prince Gremin, and a fine partner for Cojocaru in the ball scene of Act III — their pas-de-deux was beautifully done. The five principals were well supported by the corps, who were full of vivacity, and the girls’ jetés across the diagonal in Act I, supported by their partners, were executed with abundant joy and energy.

Alina Cojocaru and Bennet Gartside in the Act III ball scene

John Cranko’s choreography is a delight . . . creative, always appropriate to the drama, and this fine ballet is worth seeing again and again. The music by Kurt-Heinz Stolze — cleverly based on Tchaikovsky without taking anything from his opera on the same story — was conducted here by Valeriy Ovsyanikov. This was an excellent start to the season, and further performances are scheduled for October 2, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 20, 25 with four different casts, one of which I shall report on at the end of next week

Firebird, in concert at the BBC Proms, Royal Albert Hall, August 2010

17 August, 2010

This concert by the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Valery Gergiev, had a substantial hors d’oeuvre in Scriabin’s Symphony No. 1. That six-movement work, which ends with massive choral forces, was beautifully performed. The soloists, mezzo Nadezhda Serdiuk and tenor Sergei Skorokhodov, both members of the Mariinsky Theatre, sang strongly, and the LSO chorus gave immense power to the finale.

Stravinsky’s Firebird followed after the interval. It’s a work I have seen danced many times on stage, but here it had an unusually dreamy quality in the earlier part, quite different from the overtly dramatic effect one normally gets with ballet performances. It’s interesting to compare it to Vladimir Jurowski’s excellent Firebird with the London Philharmonic at the Proms two years ago, which was more in the style of a stage performance. After the dreamily dreary first half, Gergiev built momentum and there was a wonderfully swinging quality to the later part when the prince gets hold of Kashchey’s heart in the egg, before breaking it and releasing the princess from Kashchey’s magic. Gergiev also produced a very remarkable dynamic range from the orchestra at the end, becoming scarcely audible before building to a huge climax, helped by the dramatic appearance of three extra trumpets on stage left. This was a superb ending that elicited immense applause.