Posts Tagged ‘Hikaru Kobayashi’

Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, January 2010

19 January, 2010

Marianela Nuñez as Aurora, Royal Ballet photo by Bill Cooper

With the old Oliver Messel designs, this production by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton is simply wonderful, and with a superb cast on this first night of the present short run, we were all set for a terrific evening. In fact the dancing was excellent, so why was it that the applause during the performance was lukewarm? The answer, I’m afraid was the ragged conducting and occasional poor tempi from Valeriy Ovsyanikov. What is his excuse? That he had insufficient time for rehearsals? Maybe, but he conducted the same ballet in October and November, and his failure to start the music up in Act III immediately Aurora and her prince appear on stage just gave a sense of negligence. A one or two second gap may not seem important, but it ruins the impact. This was near the end, of course, but the problems showed themselves already in the Prologue with very slow tempi ruining the first and third fairy variations, and then the Lilac Fairy’s solo too. This music needs to sound exciting, but it failed, and the woodwind was occasionally out of phase with the brass. A world-class company like the Royal Ballet deserves better. Having got that off my chest, let us turn to the dancers.

The fairy variations in the Prologue were very well danced by Yuhui Choe, Hikaru Kobayashi, Helen Crawford, Iohna Loots and Emma Maguire, in that order. All were the same as I saw in October, except for Emma Maguire replacing Laura Morera, who in this performance danced the Bluebird pas-de-deux with Steven McRae. Both of them were excellent, and the Act III variations — Florestan and his sisters — were brilliantly performed by Sergei Polunin, Akane Takada and Yuhui Choe. Laura McCulloch did well as the Lilac Fairy, Elizabeth McGorian was beautifully dramatic as the wicked fairy, Carabosse, and I thought Gary Avis was excellent in the small part of the French prince in Act I, where too often, Princess Aurora has a weak partner for her first small pas-de-deux. She was gloriously danced by Marianela Nuñez, with Thiago Soares as a fine Prince Florimund.

Such a shame that the superb dancing could not be matched by some really good conducting, but like last October’s performance, which was also conducted by Ovsyanikov, there was not a single cheer except during the bows at the end, and for Nuñez after her Rose Adagio. This is not how it should be, and the Royal Ballet needs to use better conductors. Boriz Gruzin did an excellent job with Romeo and Juliet last week, so it can be done, but not apparently by Ovsyanikov. And he had the sauce to take a solo bow after the entire orchestra pit was empty!

Triple Bill — Agon, Sphinx, and Limen, Royal Ballet, November 2009

5 November, 2009

Melissa Hamilton and Carlos Acosta in Agon, photo by Bill Cooper

Agon is a Greek word meaning ‘contest’, and this 1957 Balanchine ballet is for twelve dancers who perform in twos, threes, etc. without any story. The music by Stravinsky is interestingly varied, some parts strongly represented by wind instruments, and others very quiet. The main pas-de-deux towards the end was brilliantly performed by Carlos Acosta and Melissa Hamilton, who continues to impress as a rising star in the company. In the two pas-de-trois we had Johan Kobborg with Yuhui Choe and Hikaru Kobayashi, and Mara Galeazzi with Valeri Hristov and Brian Maloney. The dancers all performed beautifully, and Daniel Capps did an excellent job conducting the orchestra.

Sphinx is a ballet by Glen Tetley to music of Martinů, originally choreographed for American Ballet Theatre in 1977. It’s based on Jean Cocteau’s La machine infernale, a reworking of the Oedipus myth, exploring the conflict between free will and fate. There are three dancers, the Sphinx, Oedipus and Anubis, the jackal-headed god who shepherds the dead into the Egyptian underworld. The choreography for the two men is intensely physical and both Edward Watson as Anubis, and Rupert Pennefather as Oedipus, danced like gods, while Marianela Nuñez was an attractively seductive sphinx. This was the first performance of the work by the Royal Ballet, and it used the original designs by the late Rouben Ter-Arutunian, with costumes by Willa Kim and lighting by John B. Read. The costumes were very effective, making the men look as if they were dancing naked, but with painted bodies.

Limen is a new ballet by Wayne McGregor. The title refers to the threshold of some physiological or psychological response, and we were presented at the beginning with dancers behind a transparent bluish screen. On the screen were projected single digit numbers of various sizes — like those on an LED display — that moved and changed value. The costumes by Moritz Junge were colourful tops with shorts, well set off by Lucy Carter’s lighting, which at one point showed thick bright coloured stripes from one side of the stage to the other. The choreography combined strong physicality alternating with moments of calm, but towards the end I found the production distracted me from watching the dancers. A screen with a matrix of small blue lights at the back of the stage moved very slowly forward, and as it did so some lights went out, while others came on. I’ve seen mysterious on-off lighting on stage before, but the trouble is that I’m always trying to work out the pattern and this distracts me from the dancing or singing that is the main point of the work. Obviously the lights were meant to recall the screen at the start, because as they came closer I could see that each light was a small single digit number. Presumably one has now gone over the threshold to a new level of reality.

The choreography fitted very well with the lovely music by Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho, conducted by Barry Wordsworth, who was also the conductor of the previous ballet Sphinx. Since this ballet was brand new, it was danced by a very strong cast of fifteen, including Edward Watson, Steven McRae and Eric Underwood among the men, and Leanne Benjamin and Marianela Nuñez among the women. It works well, but Wayne McGregor seems to have too strong a predilection for screens that distract from his choreography.

Sleeping Beauty, Royal Ballet, October 2009

24 October, 2009

Marianela Nuñez as the Lilac Fairy, Royal Ballet photo by Johan Persson

This was the first night of the present run, and featured some excellent dancing, but the evening never really took off. That may partly have been the conducting of Valeriy Ovsyanikov, who manipulated the tempos to suit the dancers, but sometimes went too far in slowing the music down, particularly for one of Aurora’s solos in Act III, which was completely spoiled. The cast was led by Ivan Putrov and Sarah Lamb as Florimund and Aurora, with Marianela Nuñez as the Lilac Fairy. Nuñez danced beautifully, Putrov was an elegant and worthy prince, but I was disappointed with Lamb, who seemed to be going through the steps in an anorexic haze.

Carabosse was well portrayed by Genesia Rosato, who seemed to take a malicious delight in the role, and the fairy variations in the Prologue were very well performed by Yuhui Choe, Hikaru Kobayashi, Helen Crawford, Iohna Loots and Laura Morera, in that order. I thought Hikaru Kobayashi was particularly good in the second variation representing Vitality — the original virtues of these five fairies are Purity, Vitality, Generosity, Eloquence and Passion. The Prologue was a great success, but I felt the performance tailed off a little afterwards, perhaps because of a lack of vitality, generosity, eloquence and passion on the part of Sarah Lamb. Purity she had, but it wasn’t enough. In Act III, Laura Morera and Steven McRae were superb as Princess Florine and the Bluebird, his solo steps being beautifully executed. There is no gold variation in this production, but the silver, sapphire and diamond variations, for Florestan and his sisters, were danced by Sergei Polunin, Helen Crawford, and Samantha Raine, who was very good indeed. Polunin, I thought was brilliant, and his jetés were an exercise in perfection.

This lovely production by Monica Mason and Christopher Newton, using the old Oliver Messel designs with additions by Peter Farmer, is one of the company’s gems, but although beautifully danced, this first evening lacked energy and spontaneity. Some ushers threw flowers from the Amphi and Balcony at the end, although they seemed to dump them down rather quickly, perhaps because the applause was on the weak side and there hadn’t been a single cheer throughout the performance.

Jewels, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, June 2009

9 June, 2009

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This 1967 Balanchine ballet is in three parts: Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. Mr. B originally hoped that the jewellers Van Cleef and Arpels might bankroll the ballet, and although that never happened, they did sponsor this Royal Ballet production two years ago. The staging is simple yet effective and in each part the costumes, reflecting emeralds, rubies, and diamonds, are delightful.

Emeralds is to Fauré’s incidental music for Pelléas et Mélisande. In this strange tale by Maeterlinck, Mélisande is found by a stream in a forest, like a naiad, and the green of emeralds recalls both the forest and the watery world from whence she comes. The leading couple were Tamara Rojo and Valeri Hristov, with Leanne Benjamin and Bennet Gartside as the second couple, and Deirdre Chapman, Laura Morera and Steven McRae in the pas-de-trois. They all danced extremely well, particularly Tamara Rojo, Leanne Benjamin and Steven McRae, as did the supporting artists, and this was a wonderful start to the evening.

Rubies is to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra. The racy choreography involves a pas-de-deux for a central couple, in this case Alexandra Ansanelli and Carlos Acosta, who were full of vivacity, looking as if they were really enjoying themselves. They are complemented by another woman, in this case Laura McCulloch, who plays a temptress role, and she and the lead couple take it in turns to accompany the supporting dancers. Again the ensemble work was excellent.

Diamonds is to music from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony 3, which was his last composition before starting work on Swan Lake, and the ballerina is like a diamond in glacial splendour, a precursor to the cold beauty of Odette in Swan Lake. The principal couple, Alina Cojocaru and Rupert Pennefather were brilliant. He danced like a god, with great precision and a lovely line, and she was simply delightful. They were attended by: Yuhui Choe, Hikaru Kobayashi, Helen Crawford and Emma Maguire, as the four soloists, whose dancing was a delight to watch, as they inter-weaved with one another on stage. Again the ensemble work of the other dancers was superb, and this was altogether a terrific evening with a wonderful cast. Valeriy Ovsyanikov conducted with great brio and precision.

Giselle, Royal Ballet, April 2009

6 April, 2009

 

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I attended two performances: the opening night of a new series on 6th April, and a second one on 28thApril.

On 6th April the cast was headed by Marianela Nuñez and Carlos Acosta as Giselle and Albrecht. Both were excellent, and her jumps in Act II were terrific. Their pas-de-deux work was beautifully controlled, if a little mechanical, and each one danced extremely well on their own. Gary Avis was a very fine Hilarion, utterly convincing, without over-acting in any way. As Queen of the Wilis we had Helen Crawford, dancing elegantly and commanding the stage in Act II, with her two attendants beautifully danced by Samantha Raine and Hikaru Kobayashi, the first with superb poise and control, and the second with extremely graceful arm movements. The pas de six in Act I was very well performed by Laura Morera, Ricardo Cervera, Samantha Raine, Kenta Kura, Hikaru Kobayashi and Brian Maloney, and this was an excellent cast, with Thomas Whiteside and Genesia Rosato doing a fine job as Albrecht’s squire and Giselle’s mother. My only complaint is that thecorps de ballet lacked rigour, but this may come with later performances — when the wilis exit in fours after Hilarion’s death, each four should be in a rhombus shape, which only one group out of six managed. But this was altogether a wonderful performance of Giselle, and Boris Gruzin conducted with vibrancy and sensitivity.

The second performance I saw, on 28th April, had a cast headed by Tamara Rojo and Rupert Pennefather as Giselle and Albrecht, and they were brilliant, both in their pas-de-deux work and individually in Act II. Pennefather has a beautiful line that gives him authority on stage, and their musicality comes through very well when they dance together. They also acted their parts convincingly in Act I, as did Bennet Gartside who was an excellent Hilarion. The pas-de-six in Act I was led by Yuhui Choe and Yohei Sasaki, with Elizabeth Harrod, Fernando Montaño, Emma Maguire and Ernst Meisner. Choe and Sasaki were terrific, and she was also excellent in Act II as one of the two attendants for Myrtha, the Queen of the Wilis. Myrtha herself was danced by Laura McCulloch, who did some fine jumps, but seemed slightly off the music. Her other attendant, apart from Yuhui Choe, was Sian Murphy.

The corps de ballet had a better shape in Act II than on the opening night, and my only complaint about this second act, and it’s a small one, is that I thought it lacked the emotional energy of opening night. This of course is one of those things that depend so much on the night, and it’s difficult to pin down the reason. The conductor was Boris Gruzin who also did the opening performance on 6th April.