Posts Tagged ‘Sergei Polunin’

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.

MacMillan Triple: Concerto, The Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations, a second view, Royal Ballet, March 2010

31 March, 2010

These three Kenneth MacMillan ballets represent strikingly different aspects of his choreography. As a starter we had the classical lines of Concerto, to Shostakovich’s second piano concerto; then the dramatic intensity of The Judas Tree, to specially commissioned music by Brian Elias; and finally the riotous fun of Elite Syncopations, to a jazz band playing rag-time music, mainly by Scott Joplin. This was my second visit, in order to see the alternative cast, so I’ll comment mainly on the dancers, other details being given on my previous posting.

Marianela Nuñez in Elite Syncopations, photo by Johan Persson

Elite Syncopations was just as good as last time, and Marianela Nuñez was outstanding in the second female solo, so musical, and with enormous precision and attack. Her partner in the waltz was Thiago Soares, showing excellent stage presence and looking entirely fresh despite starring in the previous ballet! Laura Morera danced the first female solo, having already performed well with Nathalie Harrison and Yuhui Choe in Scott Joplin’s Cascades. Choe was utterly charming in this, and in her later partnership with Liam Scarlett. Ludovic Ondiviela danced well in the final male solo, but the biggest applause was for Nathalie Harrison and Michael Stojko as the tall lady and short man in the Alaskan Rag. Their comic timing was excellent, and he with his glasses and bearing reminding me of that great comedian, Eric Morcambe, albeit in a shorter version.

Sarah Lamb & Ryoichi Hirano in Concerto, photo by Johan Persson

The hyper-colourful costumes for the performers and the jazz band in this ballet are delightfully absurd, and it made a fine end to an evening that started with MacMillan’s 1966 ballet Concerto, where Laura Morera and Brian Maloney did a fine job as the principal couple in the first movement, and Sarah Lamb with Ryoichi Hirano did a lovely pas-de-deux in the slow second movement. All four were joined by Laura McCulloch for the last movement, and the whole company danced with precision and excellent spacing on stage.

This 25 minute ballet makes a fine start to the evening, which then plunges into the intense darkness of The Judas Tree, where Thiago Soares gave a menacing portrayal of the Foreman (the Judas character). He was ably supported by Sergei Polunin as the Simon Peter character who stands by as Johannes Stepanek (the Jesus character) is murdered after being kissed on the cheek by the Foreman. Mara Galeazzi was the girl (the Magdalen character) who is gang raped by the workmen, and then killed by the Foreman after she accuses him of being responsible. It’s a horribly dark story, but the dramatically physical choreography keeps the momentum going at full tilt, and is a fine example of how well MacMillan could use the abstract choreography of dance to give a representation of sex and violence. Despite the subtext from an apocryphal gospel, the whole ballet can simply be viewed as a nasty story on a building site on the Isle of Dogs, with the main tower of Canary Wharf looming up in the background.

As part of a triple bill, The Judas Tree goes in the middle, and although some commentators have criticised the choice of Elite Syncopations to follow it, I find the playful absurdity a welcome relief. For me this triple bill is well judged, and whichever cast one gets, it’s an evening of ballet well worth seeing.

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!

Romeo and Juliet, Royal Ballet, January 2010

13 January, 2010

What a relief this was from the Maryinsky’s old Soviet pantomime Romeo and Juliet last August. Kenneth Macmillan’s version is the choice of several ballet companies, and with its designs by Nicholas Giorgiadis forms a fine response to Prokofiev’s wonderful music.

Tamara Rojo as Juliet

The cast for this first night of the present run was a strong one headed by Tamara Rojo, whose portrayal of a convincingly distraught Juliet at the end could hardly be bettered. She was very well partnered by Rupert Pennefather, whose elegant and youthful Romeo was equally convincing. Gary Avis was terrific as Tybalt, never overstepping the line into pathological irascibility, as sometimes happens. He was always controlled, while smouldering with mockery at the Montagues, and rage at Romeo.

Romeo’s friends Mercutio and Benvolio were very well danced by José Martín and Sergei Polunin, and in fact Polunin was the best Benvolio I ever remember seeing. His first sword fight in Act I was superbly on the music. David Pickering portrayed an anxiously callow Paris, Genesia Rosato was an excellent nurse, and Elizabeth McGorian a suitably dramatic Lady Capulet. A couple of comments on the more minor roles: Brian Maloney was superbly musical as the soloist in the Mandolin Dance, and the three harlots were all well danced by Laura Morera, Samantha Raine and Francesca Filpi.

Boris Gruzin in the orchestra pit did a superb job, giving the dancers ample musical stimulation. Tamara Rojo will be dancing Juliet again on January the 16th, presumably with Pennefather who replaced Acosta in this performance,  so any available tickets should be snapped up. If you miss that performance there are plenty more, with a whole range of Juliets, some of whom will be very good indeed — Cojocaru, Benjamin and Nuñez particularly spring to mind.

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.