Posts Tagged ‘Steven McRae’

Jewels, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, September 2011

23 September, 2011

On the back of the cast list is an advertisement for jewellers Van Cleef and Arpels whom Balanchine once hoped would bankroll his production. They didn’t …  yet all was well, and this ballet first came to stage in 1967 as a full scale work in three acts: Emeralds to Fauré’s incidental music for Pelleas and Melisande; Rubies to Stravinsky’s Capriccio for piano and orchestra; and Diamonds to Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 3.

Leanne Benjamin in Emeralds, all images Johan Persson

The green of Emeralds represents Melisande whom Pelleas discovers by a stream in a forest, the colour representing both foliage and the underwater world of a naiad. Tamara Rojo danced with great fluidity, partnered by Ryoichi Hirano; and Leanne Benjamin was wonderfully musical both in her solo and her pas-de-deux with Nehemiah Kish, who showed a particularly elegant line. Samantha Raine, Deirdre Chapman and Alexander Campbell danced delightfully in the pas-de-trois, and the ending with the three men was performed with perfect timing and symmetry.

Rubies

The red of Rubies represents a racier, sexy milieu, and although Valeriy Ovsyanikov’s conducting and Robert Clark’s piano lacked a cutting edge, Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb made up for it with the sharpness of their dancing, and Zenaida Yanowsky shone with joy as the seductive other woman. McRae was extraordinary in his solos, and his dazzling chaînés turns elicited spontaneous applause.

Cojocaru and Pennefather in Diamonds

Tchaikovsky’s music for Diamonds is from his last composition before starting work on Swan Lake, and the ballerina in her white tutu has an ethereal splendour rather like the swan queen. This third part of the evening started beautifully with Yuhui Choe and Hikaru Kobayashi sparkling as they danced in and out of twelve members of the ensemble, and Alina Cojocaru and Rupert Pennefather were perfect as the main couple, though I found the conducting sluggish for their big pas-de-deux. The four female solists (Choe, Kobayashi, Crawford and Mendizabal) interwove beautifully between one another, the four men (Kura, Hristov, Stepanek and Whitehead) danced superbly in phase, and I thought Thomas Whitehead in particular showed a wonderfully strong line.

Excellent ensemble dancing for all three parts, and only the conducting left something to be desired. How odd that the conductor sees fit to take a solo bow — opera conductors wouldn’t dream of doing such a thing.

All in all a wonderful evening’s dancing to Balanchine’s choreography, aided by delightful sets and costumes, and the House was deservedly full.

Performances continue until October 5 — for details click here.

Royal Ballet Triple: Scènes de Ballet/ Voluntaries/ The Rite of Spring, Covent Garden, May 2011

29 May, 2011

The three works in this mixed bill fit beautifully together.

The ensemble of twelve from Scènes de Ballet, photo Dee Conway

Scènes de Ballet is a wonderful work by Frederick Ashton to a piece Stravinsky composed in 1944 for a Ziegfeld review. The stylised brilliance of Ashton’s choreography, with its unexpected poses and épaulement, suits the sharp elegance of music, evoking an era wiped out by the Second World War. The glorious geometric precision, with the twelve girls of the ensemble forming varying patterns occasionally split apart by the four male soloists, like four seasons dividing the twelve months in a year, is a delight. As the curtain rises, the principal male dancer is centre stage surrounded by the male soloists. The female ensemble enters, followed later by the female principal who dances with all five of the men. The idiosyncratic choreography, matching the interesting irregularities of Stravinsky’s score, is a treat.

The four soloists were excellent on both occasions, with the principal couples being Lauren Cuthbertson with Sergei Polunin in the matinée, and Sarah Lamb with Valeri Hristov in the evening. The irregular rhythms make this a difficult piece for the dancers — you really have to feel the music — and in the evening performance Sarah Lamb did so with enormous fluidity and sparkle. The female principal is the star of the show, and she brought the whole ballet to life. Although the dancing was wonderful, the orchestra in this first item sounded a bit ragged under the direction of Barry Wordsworth, though they were far better in the other Stravinsky piece —The Rite of Spring — later in the show.

Sarah Lamb in Voluntaries/ photo Bill Cooper

The second item, Voluntaries was created by Glen Tetley in late 1973 for the Stuttgart ballet. He made it as a memorial to their artistic director John Cranko, following his recent early death, and set it to Poulenc’s Concerto in G minor for organ, strings and timpani. The organ music drives the whole work and was played with huge freshness and vitality by Thomas Trotter — well done to the Royal Ballet for engaging him. In Tetley’s wonderful choreography the principal couple is supported by one female and two male soloists, along with an ensemble of six couples.

The matinée was well danced by Leanne Benjamin and Nehemiah Kish, with Sarah Lamb, Ryoichi Hirano and Valeri Hristov, but it was the evening when this ballet really came to life. The huge size difference between Benjamin and Kish, which seemed to cause difficulty in one pas-de-deux, disappeared in the evening with Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather, along with Cuthbertson, Hristov and Polunin as the soloists. The ensemble remained the same, but there was no comparison between the afternoon and evening performances. The evening exhibited far more joy and energy, and Nuñez and Pennefather were superb together.

Rite of Spring

As the last item, Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite of Spring is a wonderful work, always fresh, and it was superbly performed. The orchestra and dancers produce enormous rhythmic energy, their ritualistic movements announcing the onset of Spring. As night falls, the Chosen One emerges. This sacrificial victim can be male or female in MacMillan’s choreography, and here it was Steven McRae in the afternoon, and Edward Watson in the evening. Both were excellent, and I find Watson to be extraordinary in his portrayal of this role. More than any other member of the company he seems exceptional at being a victim — I’m reminded of his role in The Judas Tree — and his movements made me think of a victim facing his own sacrifice energised by drugs, yet still exhibiting fear at the prospect. There was terror in his eyes and huge emotion in his dancing — a riveting performance!

This wonderful triple bill continues until June 11, but there are only four more performances — for details click here.

Manon, with Benjamin and McRae, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, April 2011

22 April, 2011

This work is one of the jewels in the Royal Ballet’s crown, and it hardly seems thirty-seven years since Kenneth Macmillan created it.

Leanne Benjamin in Act I, all photos by Bill Cooper

The performances had a wonderful freshness, and Leanne Benjamin brought Manon beautifully to life, showing her complexity: frivolity and teasing, anguish, fecklessness and the desire for pretty clothes, jewellery and a good time. She entered the party in Act II looking like a little girl surrounded by grown ups, seeming so pleased to see her brother before exhibiting a catching vivacity and zest for life as she engages the lecherous attentions of eight ‘gentlemen’. Steven McRae as her lover was a brilliant partner in their various pas-de-deux, and although Des Grieux is a bit of a cipher in this ballet, he performed with such perfect control and élan that his dancing took on an ethereal mix of nobility and youthful energy. This was McRae’s debut in the role, and from his first solo adagio in Act I to his remarkable spins in the scene where he knifes the gaoler, and his final attempts to console the dying Manon, he was superb.

Ricardo Cervera was wonderful as Manon’s brother Lescaut with his amoral attitudes, followed by later regrets and failed attempts to rescue his sister. His drunken performance in Act II was convincing without ever being over the top, and he was well aided by Laura Morera as his mistress, showing just the right amount of sexiness without in any way overshadowing Manon. Christopher Saunders portrayed a brutally powerful Monsieur G.M., and Gary Avis was riveting as the gaoler, from the moment he entered front stage left in Act III. This was altogether a terrific cast, and Martin Yates conducted with great sensitivity and emotional tension.

Leanne Benjamin in Act III

The music by Massenet contains nothing from his opera of the same name, and was originally compiled by Leighton Lucas, with collaboration by Hilda Gaunt. However, it seems that Martin Yates has re-orchestrated it, with fine effect. This was the first performance in the present run, and although Steven McRae was due to take the role of Des Grieux later, he replaced Edward Watson in today’s first night and I was delighted to witness such a marvellous debut in the role.

Performances with various casts continue until June 4 — for more 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.

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, February 2011

1 March, 2011

When the performers came on at the end, even the trees took a bow. It was that sort of evening, when the whole cast did a superb job, and the audience loved them all. And why not indeed? This was the world premiere of a brand new full-length ballet choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon to specially commissioned music by Joby Talbot, and the audience roared their approval.

Lauren Cuthbertson as Alice and Sergei Polunin as Jack, photos by Johan Persson

Lewis Carroll’s original story is a wonderfully unusual and creative tale, hard to put on stage as a ballet because it’s impossible to reproduce Carroll’s clever word play. But this ballet matched its creativity, and the music matched the choreography. The scenario by Nicholas Wright was very effective, the lighting design by Natasha Katz was magical, and the video projections were glorious. I loved the fluttering leaves towards the end, and the tumble down the rabbit hole early in Act I gave me a sudden sense of vertigo.

Alice trapped by being too large

But what of the dancing? Lauren Cuthbertson was a remarkable Alice — how on earth did she keep going in Act I when she’s on stage virtually all the time? Amazing! Sergei Polunin was a star as her beloved Jack, the gardener’s son, and as his alter ego the Knave of Hearts. Steven McRae was fantastic as the Mad Hatter — his tap dancing was brilliant, and I loved his costume in pink and green. In fact the costumes and designs by Bob Crowley were a delight. I liked the nineteenth century outfits at the start, as if we were in A Month in the Country, followed by modern clothes at the end. That might seem odd, since Alice is simply waking from a dream and the costumes should be the same when she awakes, but somehow it worked. And in between — in Wonderland — the costumes were immensely colourful.

Zenaida Yanowsky as the Queen of Hearts

So many vignettes from the original story were included, one cannot mention them all, but Simon Russell Beale as the Duchess in the ‘Pig and Pepper’ chapter was a revelation. I had no idea he was so musical. Eric Underwood was a wonderful caterpillar, and Edward Watson was very fine in his two roles, as Lewis Carroll and the White Rabbit. But if one had to pick one performer, apart from Lauren Cuthbertson, it was Zenaida Yanowsky as the Queen of Hearts. She was also the mother in the ‘prologue’, ejecting Alice’s beloved Jack from the garden party because she thought he stole a tart — then in Wonderland she becomes the imperious Queen of Hearts. Her spoof on the Rose Adagio from Sleeping Beauty was worth the whole show, and Yanowsky played it with superb comic timing.

In case it sounds as if I was overwhelmed with appreciation, here are a couple of quibbles. I thought Act I had moments where things didn’t seem to be going anywhere, and the choreography was dull, though Act II carried on at a frenetic pace. And while Joby Talbot’s music suited the choreography very well, with wonderful uses of the percussion section, and Barry Wordsworth got the orchestra to play it eloquently, I felt a lack of tension. But these are relatively minor quibbles, and if we compare this new full-length ballet to the new full-length opera Anna Nicole that premiered from the Royal Opera House less than two weeks ago, the ballet is far more creative.

See it during its first run if you can, though I’m sure it will be revived in a year or two’s time. This is a co-production with the National Ballet of Canada, whose first performance in Toronto is on June 4. Performances by the Royal Ballet continue until March 15 — for more details click here.

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

Royal Ballet Triple: Chroma, Tryst, Symphony in C, Covent Garden, May 2010

22 May, 2010

This triple bill was beautifully danced, and the first and last items are very strong ballets. What a shame there were so many empty seats, but those who are eligible should be aware of the student standby tickets, where excellent seats on the main floor could have been purchased for £10.

Chroma, photo by Johan Persson

Chroma is a modern dance work choreographed by Wayne McGregor for four women and six men. It’s strikingly asexual, in the sense that boys and girls frequently make the same movements and are clothed in identical grey costumes. The opening was very well danced by Mara Galeazzi and Edward Watson, I loved the pas-de-deux performed by Steven McRae and Yuhui Choe, and there are plenty more such male-female duos, but male-male ones too. For example in one scene there are five seemingly identical couples on stage, but only four female dancers. There is also a pas-de-trois for three boys, and later three simultaneous male-female-male pas-de-trois. The ballet lasts just under 25 minutes, and the leaps, twists and multiple partnering works well. The music was composed partly by Joby Talbot, partly by Jack White III, all arranged by Joby Talbot and orchestrated by Christopher Austin. The six male dancers were: Ricardo Cervera, Steven McRae, Ludovic Ondiviela, Eric Underwood, Jonathan Watkins and Edward Watson, with the four females being: Yuhui Choe, Mara Galeazzi, Sarah Lamb and Laura Morera. The dancing was first rate, and Daniel Capps conducted the music with lyrical energy. My only question is why it’s called Chroma, meaning ‘colour’ in ancient Greek, but as the lady next to me said, ‘achroma’ would be more suitable in view of the grey costumes and white background. I’m told the background gives a different effect from the main floor, but from the Amphi it’s just flat and white.

Melissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood in Tryst, photo by Bill Cooper

The title of the next work, Tryst, is easy to explain. The choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon was driving across Scotland while the radio played a composition of that name by James MacMillan. It’s rhythmic intensity, coupled with a lovely adagio passage, struck him as being well-suited to ballet, so in April and May 2002 he created this work. The designs by Jean-Marc Puissant are beautifully asymmetric with splashes of colour, and the lighting by Natasha Katz shows interesting variations. I very much liked the central slow section, which started with Melissa Hamilton dancing a solo on stage while a silhouetted male figure walked slowly across the front. As the light changed it turned out to be Eric Underwood, and they danced a lovely pas-de-deux. The ballet is a mixture of classical and modern dance, so its second place on the programme is entirely appropriate, but it seemed a slight let-down after Chroma. The music, conducted by the composer, I found interestingly atonal. Apparently it began life as a folk melody for a poem of four verses called The Tryst by Scottish poet William Soutar.

Symphony in C with Pennefather and Nuñez, photo by Bill Cooper

Finally Symphony in C was a delight, as usual. George Balanchine created it in 1947 for the Paris Opera Ballet, to Bizet’s music of the same name, and recreated it in New York the following year. The original had different colours for the four movements, but in the recreated version the girls are all in white tutus with the men in black. This is a magnificent ballet requiring eight principals, sixteen soloists and a substantial corps de ballet, so it can show off a classical company to great advantage, and the dancing here was superb. The four principal couples, one for each movement were: Sarah Lamb with Steven McRae, Marianela Nuñez with Rupert Pennefather, Yuhui Choe with Sergei Polunin, and Laura Morera with Edward Watson. It seems almost invidious to single out anyone, but Sergei Polunin’s leaps were extraordinarily strong and graceful, and Edward Watson danced with terrific attack. This is a beautifully constructed ballet by Mr. B, and after we have seen all four sets of dancers, they return one after another, and then combine in a finale. Bizet’s music was well conducted by Dominic Grier.

My final remark is that putting on this triple bill is quite a feat. Three different conductors, dozens of dancers, many with difficult roles — the Royal Ballet surpasses itself, and the auditorium should really be full to bursting.

Triple Bill: Concerto, The Judas Tree, Elite Syncopations, Royal Ballet, March 2010

24 March, 2010

These three ballets by Kenneth MacMillan are from different stages in his career, and form a nicely eclectic triple bill.

Steven McRae in Concerto, photo by Johan Persson

Concerto was created in 1966 for the Deutsche Oper Ballet in Berlin, one year after his full-length Romeo and Juliet. The music is Shostakovich’s second piano concerto, a lively, witty work, played here by Jonathan Higgins under the baton of Dominic Grier. It starts with a bassoon and two oboes, closely followed by the piano as the dancers step out into the first movement, where the principal couple was Yuhui Choe and Steven McRae. Both danced beautifully and I thought she was particularly graceful. In the adagio of the second movement, Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather gave a wonderfully smooth performance. They reappear in the third movement, as do Yuhui Choe and Steven McRae, along with Helen Crawford. There are three levels of dancers in this ballet, the principals in orange leotards, the second level in red and the third in yellow. Watching them all from the front of the Amphi one could see very clearly the precision of their placing on stage, and the whole effect, like the music, was ebulliently energetic.

Carlos Acosta in The Judas Tree, photo by Johan Persson

Carlos Acosta in the Judas Tree, photo by Johan Persson

Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin in the Judas Tree, photo by Johan Persson

This fine start to the evening was followed by MacMillan’s last and perhaps darkest and most brutal work, The Judas Tree, to music of Brian Elias, written relatively freely without a set scenario. I find it a powerful dance work, on the themes of betrayal and guilt, showing MacMillan to be a master craftsman when it comes to using abstract movement to tell a nasty story. The action involves a foreman and thirteen workmen on a building site in a run-down part of town. Leanne Benjamin, as a provocative and skimpily dressed young woman, seems to have a mutually abusive relationship with Carlos Acosta as the foreman. He ignores her and she flirts with one of his friends, portrayed by Edward Watson, the two of them forming a bond together. The action is very physical and aggressive, with fights among the men and an assault on the woman, who finds some protection from Edward Watson and another friend, portrayed by Bennet Gartside. In the end she is gang raped by the other eleven workmen, and when she blames the foreman, he murders her, then beats up and murders the friend represented by Edward Watson. In a final act of guilt the foreman climbs up the scaffolding and hangs himself. There’s a Biblical, or at least gnostic Christian, background to all this, and when the girl reappears at the end as a wraith-like figure it signifies the indestructibility of the purified soul, but . . . it can simply be taken as a story to be interpreted as one wishes. MacMillan’s choreography is done with his usual finesse, and Acosta, Watson and Gartside all performed it very well in their interactions with one another. Watson in particular portrayed his character very sympathetically, and Leanne Benjamin was superb in her physically demanding role, maintaining integrity and stage presence throughout. Both these two had danced their roles before, unlike the others, but there was also a direct link from the original production in 1992 to the present cast as Irek Mukhamedov, who created the role of the foreman, helped in coaching this revival.

The final item of the evening, Elite Syncopations, MacMillan created in 1974 immediately after his full-length ballet Manon. Where Manon deals with seduction, rape, robbery and violent death, albeit in the context of a great eighteenth-century romantic novel, this is a light-hearted, almost flippant work. The dance is performed to rag-time music, mainly by Scott Joplin, played by a jazz band at the rear of the stage. They and the performers are dressed in extremely colourful and elaborately stylized costumes by Ian Spurling, and the whole effect is delightful fun. Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, and the dancing was glorious. Mara Galeazzi was the first female soloist, and Sarah Lamb the second. Both were excellent, and Lamb danced very well with Valeri Hristov in the waltz. Laura McCulloch and Paul Kay were hilarious in their deliberately absurd Alaskan rag, and the dancing could hardly have been better, until suddenly Steven McRae came on for his solo and was electrifying, with excellent precision and attack, and superb musicality.

If you need a reason to go to the ballet, the final item alone is worth the price of the ticket, but there are only six performances of this triple bill, with the last one on 15th April.

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.

Triple Bill: As One, Rushes, Infra, Royal Ballet, February 2010

20 February, 2010

Acosta and Morera in Rushes, Royal Ballet photo; Bill Cooper

All three of these ballets are concerned with interactions between people, and the first one, a new work by Jonathan Watkins, was an optimistic vision of individuals living in a harmony with one another — to be as it were As One. At the start one dancer appears in an opening that expands to reveal a whole apartment building. In the foreground a few people dance outside it, and we are then transported into one apartment where a house party is going on. This then changes to a different apartment where Laura Morera and Edward Watson desultorily watch television, yet their sluggishness suddenly releases a burst of energy, and they dance with great spirit. Between the start of the ballet and the ensemble at the end there are five scenes, and the energy of the performers is palpable. Kristen McNally danced a wonderful solo, as did Steven McRae, who performed against a background of flashing names and numbers that looked to me like a huge train timetable, and this helped create a sense of activity in day-to-day life. McRae and McNally also danced together, and were superb. I liked the set designs by Simon Daw, the simple costumes by Vicki Mortimer, and I thought the lighting by Neil Austin was excellent. The music, by a young composer named Graham Fitkin, seemed to lack a sense of precision and attack, but this may have been due more to Barry Wordsworth’s conducting rather than the composer himself. The choreography called for the dancers to perform in very close proximity to one another, not always doing the same things, which must have been quite challenging. There was some raggedness in the ensemble pieces, but it was a new ballet and this was the first night. It will settle down, and is well worth seeing again.

The second item, Rushes — Fragments of a Lost Story, by Kim Brandstrup is a beautiful description of a relationship between a man and two women.  Carlos Acosta was the man, with Laura Morera as the sexy woman in the red dress, and Alina Cojocaru more demure in the grey dress. These were the same dancers I saw last time at the premiere, and once again they were wonderful, and entirely convincing in their roles. The story is uplifting in the sense that although the man is drawn to the woman in red, who attracts and avoids him, he eventually notices the woman in grey, who has been watching from the sidelines, and finds love with her. I was delighted to see this Brandstrup work again, and find Richard Hudson’s designs very clever in conveying the fragmentary nature of the story. A bead curtain splits the stage into a front and back half, and the dark lighting by Jean Kalman gives a sense of mystery and uncertainty, sometimes shining through the beads, sometimes deflected by them. Part of the inspiration for this work was the Soviet era in Russia, which was littered with fragments: unrealised projects, the banned, the censored, along with secret notebooks and sketches. In this context the music by Prokofiev, originally written as a film score for The Queen of Spades, fits perfectly. Prokofiev wrote it at the same time as he was working on Romeo and Juliet, and one hears a similar pattern to the music. For this ballet Michael Berkeley has done us a great service by arranging and elaborating Prokofiev’s music, and it sounded wonderful, being well performed under the direction of Daniel Capps.

The final item of the evening was a revival of Wayne McGregor’s ballet Infra, which I saw in its previous run. On this second occasion I was sitting higher up in the house and I realised that the higher you sit the more the floor of the stage appears to take up the space within the proscenium arch. The best place to sit might be with the spotlights in the roof, where the animated figures moving across a horizontal strip on the backdrop would be invisible. They are intrusive and detract attention from the choreography, though perhaps that’s the idea, because Max Richter’s music is strangely dull and the choreography is more athletic than interesting. The highlight was the excellent pas-de-deux between Eric Underwood and Melissa Hamilton, and though there was certainly applause at the end there were also a number of empty seats for this third item.