Posts Tagged ‘Frederick Ashton’

Royal Ballet Triple: Limen, Marguerite and Armand, Requiem, Covent Garden, October 2011

9 October, 2011

Having seen Limen two years ago, my main memory was of blue number lights at the rear of the stage in a confusing on-again-off-again pattern, along with dancers barely visible in a half-light, but that is only in the second part. The first half is better, and I like Kaija Saariaho’s music, I love the use of bright colours in Lucy Carter’s lighting, and I rather like the video projections of liquid crystal numbers floating in a blue background at the start. Wayne McGregor’s choreography was brilliantly executed by Steven McRae and a first rate cast, but the last part in half light is dull, overshadowed by the bright blue lights at the rear, and I was glad of the interval before the main two items of the evening.

Rojo and Polunin, photo Tristram Kenton

Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand is a beautiful ballet based on Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias, with designs by Cecil Beaton. He wrote it for Fonteyn, partnered by Nureyev, who was almost twenty years her junior, and it was performed here by Tamara Rojo with the 21-year old Sergei Polunin. Her dancing, reminiscent of Fonteyn herself, showed huge emotional commitment, and her pain is palpable as he throws her aside in anger. Hers is a characterisation of the role it will be hard to beat. Polunin’s stage presence and physicality were wonderful, and the rest of the cast gave fine support, with Gary Avis as a most engaging Duke, like a lightly bearded version of Bruce Forsythe, and Christopher Saunders as a very solid father. When Ashton originally wanted to create this piece the right music evaded him until he heard Liszt’s piano sonata in B minor on the radio in 1962, and the ballet followed the next year to an orchestrated version of the sonata. In this performance Barry Wordsworth conducted the orchestra, but with Robert Clarke sounding overly sententious on the piano the music failed to match the heights of emotion reached by the dancers.

Leanne Benjamin in Requiem, photo Johan Persson

Finally in Requiem, to Fauré’s music, the emotion of the dancers is more restrained but very much the essence of the piece. Kenneth MacMillan created this ballet as a tribute to another wonderful British choreographer, John Cranko of the Stuttgart Ballet. The board of governors of the Royal Opera House originally turned down the idea of creating a ballet to Fauré’s sacred music, but MacMillan turned to the Stuttgart Ballet itself, which performed it as a memorial to the loss of their inspiring leader. The dancers exhibit collective grief, and the evening cast was wonderful together, with Carlos Acosta exhibiting enormous physical presence, and Leanne Benjamin riding high above the company as they carried her. These are dancers whose very presence is a tribute to dance, and the performance of the Sanctus by Leanne Benjamin and Rupert Pennefather was beautiful. The company danced with utter conviction, and perfect placing, and the pas-de-trois with Pennefather, Acosta and Benjamin at the end was superbly done.

Carlos Acosta in Requiem, photo Johan Persson

Requiem is really something to behold, and this triple bill is an opportunity to see highly emotional work of Ashton and MacMillan in the same programme. Don’t miss it. There are four more performances until October 20 — for details click here.

Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet, Peter Schaufuss Ballet, London Coliseum, July 2011

12 July, 2011

Frederick Ashton choreographed Romeo and Juliet for the Royal Danish Ballet in 1955, and it was on a smaller scale than the 1965 Kenneth MacMillan version familiar to Covent Garden audiences. Schaufuss’s mother and father danced Juliet and Mercutio in the original, so Peter Schaufuss is very much involved in this work, and he worked with Ashton on a new production for the English National Ballet in 1985 when he was artistic director. At that time they included ensemble pieces that enlarged the ballet, but in this production Schaufuss claims to have gone back to the original, including original costume designs by Peter Rice, which are wonderful.

Vasiliev and Osipova, photo by Charlotte MacMillan

He has also pared it down to fairly minimal sets by Luciano Melini, showing a large foreground with steps at the rear to a slightly higher level. This has the effect that the front curtain can remain open during scene changes, which are aided by clever alterations in the lighting and changing backdrops. Despite the London Coliseum’s large stage this production has a small cast, enlarged for the Gala on Tuesday, by including Lynn Seymour and David Wall as the Montague parents and Wayne Sleep as Peter the Page — this is what most of the press will review.

Vasiliev and Osipova in rehearsal, photo Tristram Kenton

However, the main couple, Ivan Vasiliev and Natalia Osipova, dance all week, and they’re outstanding. She shows huge emotion in the second part as she rejects Paris, flying around the stage in agony before going to see Friar Laurence, very calmly played by Peter Schaufuss himself. Vasiliev is equally terrific, dancing with perfection. His characterisation of the role shows real feeling, and his sword fight with Tybalt was superbly done. In fact the sword fights, to Ashton’s original choreography, are wonderful. Choreographically this has some glorious moments, and Vasiliev was well supported by Alban Lendorf as Mercutio who danced with great vigour and panache, and Peter Schaufuss’s daughter Tara as Mercutio’s girlfriend. Stephen Jefferies gave an immensely strong and cool portrayal of Lord Capulet, with Zoe Ashe-Browne as his wife.

If you’re looking for the balcony scene and those lovely bustling scenes in the square you’ll be disappointed, but this is a must-see for two reasons. One is that Ashton’s Romeo and Juliet is seldom performed in London, but the main reason is that Vasiliev and Osipova are incredible. How they will manage to dance every performance I don’t know, and their first night on Monday was spoiled by technical faults with an unmovable front curtain, adding an extra half-hour or more to the interval, while audience and orchestra remained patiently seated. But it was worth waiting because the English National Ballet Orchestra played Prokofiev’s music superbly under the direction of Graham Bond, so if you can get tickets, do go.

Performances continue every day with Vasiliev and Osipova as Romeo and Juliet — for 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.

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.

La Fille mal gardée, Cojocaru and McRae, Royal Ballet, March 2010

19 March, 2010

It’s always a pleasure to watch this delightful Ashton ballet to music of Hérold, radically reshaped by John Lanchbery. Now in its fiftieth anniversary year, the original designs by Osbert Lancaster look perennially fresh, and Ashton’s choreography is a delight, with its clever use of satin ribbons and kerchiefs.

William Tuckett as Widow Simone, photo by Tristram Kenton

The performance on March 18 was due to be danced by Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg as Lisa and Colas, but Steven McRae made his debut as Colas, taking over from the injured Kobborg. He did a superb job as Lisa’s lover, cheekily interfering with her nuptial arrangements to the moronic Alain, whose only claim to her attention is his father’s money and vineyards. McRae danced with precision and snap, and being still such a young member of the company he fitted the part perfectly. His partnering of Alina Cojocaru worked wonderfully well, and they seemed to have excellent chemistry together. She was fresh and saucy but without ever going too far, and the relationship with her mother, Widow Simone showed ample sympathy on both sides. William Tuckett was simply excellent as the Widow, never overstepping the mark into slapstick, yet always accidentally witty, particularly in the clog dance. Add to this a wonderful performance by Jose Martin as Alain, and you have a first rate set of principals, well aided by a very fine supporting cast. Everyone seemed to be having fun, as did the orchestra, under the baton of Barry Wordsworth, particularly the piccolo and tuba players.

If you missed this performance, McRae should be dancing the role of Colas again on March 27 and April 26, partnered by Roberta Marquez, and Cojocaru is due to dance Lisa again on the evenings of March 18, 26, and the matinée of April 3, partnered by Johan Kobborg if he’s recovered from his injury. If not, then you will probably get Cojocaru and McRae again, a real treat.

Les Patineurs and Tales of Beatrix Potter, Royal Ballet, December 2009

15 December, 2009

These two delightful ballets by Frederick Ashton are a joy to watch. He was a choreographer with a sense of humour, and his inventiveness is well revealed in both works. This is a revival of the double bill from last year, and performed by very similar casts.

Les Patineurs is to music by Meyerbeer, arranged by Constant Lambert, and Ashton’s choreography gives a wonderful impression of ice-skating. Steven McRae danced the boy in blue, giving him a very boyish feel, and the elegant couple in white was stylishly portrayed by Rupert Pennefather with Sarah Lamb. The soloists in dark blue dresses were Yuhui Choe and Laura Morera, making a fine pas-de-trois with McRae, and Yuhui Choe was spectacular on her own. McRae’s fouttés were wonderfully done, and Paul Murphy in the orchestra pit kept the music going at a good smooth pace.

In Tales of Beatrix Potter, with its uplifting music by John Lanchbery, we had a range of excellent dancers, their faces of course invisible behind the masks. Jonathan Howells was a charming Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, the same as last year, and Gary Avis was once again an excellent Fox, this time with Samantha Raine as Jemima Puddle Duck. Bennet Gartside and Laura Morera again danced beautifully as the loving couple Pigling Bland and Pig-Wig. Johannes Stepanek was Peter Rabbit, and Ricardo Cervera repeated his role of Johnny Town-Mouse, but this time with Bethany Keating as Mrs. Tittle-Mouse — both were suitably stylish. The naughty mice, Hunca Munca and Tom Thumb were amusingly performed by Iohna Loots, who did the same role last year, and Ludovic Ondiviela. The male solos for Jeremy Fisher and Squirrel Nutkin were danced by Kenta Kura and Paul Kay. It’s impossible to compete with McRae’s provocative Nutkin from last year, and I’m afraid I thought Kenta Kura was off the music as Jeremy Fisher, but the little mice, danced by junior associates of the Royal Ballet School, were utterly superb. This is presumably their star role for the year, and no matter whether or not they go on to join the company they can all be immensely proud of their performances. What a joy it was to watch them!

Nothing can compare to John Lanchbery conducting his own music to this ballet, but Paul Murphy did well, and the designs by Christine Edzard and masks by Rostislav Doboujinsky continue to charm.