Posts Tagged ‘Tamara Rojo’

Ecstasy and Death, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, April 2013

19 April, 2013

This intriguing triple bill is the first programme artistic director Tamara Rojo has put together for the Company, and she even dances in it herself.

Rojo and le Riche, all images ENB/ David Jensen

Rojo and le Riche, all images ENB/ David Jensen

The second item Le Jeune Homme et la Mort is worth the whole programme, and on the first night Rojo was the coolly callous young woman, with Nicolas le Riche, star of the Paris Opéra Ballet, as the young painter driven to madness by her strangely cold attraction. Roland Petit’s gloriously expressive choreography shows him to be in a state of nervous tension and exhaustion, and le Riche gave a riveting portrayal of his emotional despair. Two other performers will dance the role in the present run of performances, guest artist Ivan Putrov and Company member Fabian Reimair. As the girl, Tamara Rojo in her yellow dress, and later the mask of death, showed superb manipulation and indifference.

This extraordinary 1946 work, to a libretto by Jean Cocteau, formed an electrifyingly creative collaboration in post-Liberation Paris. For the music, he and Petit finally settled on Bach’s Passacaglia in C minor — at the dress rehearsal! The Bach was very strongly played under principal conductor Gavin Sutherland who gave fine musical direction to the evening, with Chris Swithinbank at the piano in Mozart’s Concertos K488 and K467 for the first item Petite Mort.

Petite Mort

Petite Mort

The French term la petite mort is an idiomatic euphemism for sexual orgasm, and the rapiers in Jiří Kylián’s choreography suggest a dichotomy between assertiveness and oblivion for the six couples. The men performed superbly with their rapiers, setting them in motion on the stage as if moving in unison of their own accord. Excellent rehearsal preparation must have led to this precision, and the unusual and very physical choreography was crisply and energetically performed by the twelve dancers.

Etudes

Etudes

The Company is at the top of its game, and the final Etudes was beautifully danced. Choreography is by Harald Lander, director of the Royal Danish Ballet, who created this work in 1948 to orchestral music by Knudåge Riisager, based on Czerny’s renowned piano exercises. It reveals a ballet class with a difference, as it starts with twelve girls in black tutus at the barre forming four sets of three, then three sets of four, each set in unison but different from the others. It then slowly opens out to other dancers, ending with nearly forty on stage. As the leading girl, Erina Takahashi showed lovely gentle movements, and her partners James Forbat, Esteban Berlanga and Vadim Muntagirov danced with fine precision. Muntagirov in particular showed a relaxed nobility of posture and line that was very attractive.

This  triple bill shows the Company to perfection, and performances continue until April 21 — for details click here.

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Ashton Mixed Bill, with Rojo and Polunin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, February 2013

13 February, 2013

This was Tamara Rojo’s evening, ending with a lovely bouquet of flowers for her — making up for their lack of such tributes in her last days with the Company, after accepting the artistic directorship of the ENB. In Ashton’s take on The Lady of the Camellias, she was a captivating Marguerite, glamorous and consumptive, showing fine textures of emotion. So lovely in her red dress in the second tableau, so apparently serene yet emotional in the third with Armand’s father, her broken bourrées heart wrenching in the fourth, and in the last tableau her demise left me spellbound.

Rojo and Polunin, all images ROH/ Bill Cooper

Rojo and Polunin, all images ROH/ Bill Cooper

Her partner, Sergei Polunin also left the Company last season, but in a far more abrupt way, and it was good to see this extraordinarily talented dancer back again. Their pas-de-deux were flawlessly executed and full of the tension that Ashton brought to his choreography for this ballet. Polunin himself showed a deft and light touch as he entered in the first tableau. Secure in his dancing and dramatic in his portrayal he only perhaps lacked command at the odd point when he was no longer with her. But this was a beautifully sensitive performance, and Christopher Saunders gave a fine portrayal of the father.

Watson, Nuñez, Bonelli in Monotones II

Watson, Nuñez, Bonelli in Monotones II

It ended a thrilling evening of ballet preceded by Monotones I and II between the intervals. Superbly danced, and Marianela Nuñez, Federico Bonelli and Edward Watson formed a heavenly triple in Monotones II. Nuñez in particular brought an ethereal quality to her performance, with extraordinarily graceful arm movements as she developed them from one position to another. When geometry in motion has such quality it leaves the mere human realm, which of course is exactly what Ashton intended.

Campbell and Choe in Voices of Spring

Campbell and Choe in Voices of Spring

Before the first interval was a short triple bill starting with Ravel’s eerie La Valse, which the Company danced beautifully, and ending with Johan Strauss’s enduringly happy Voices of Spring, gloriously performed by Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell. As they danced I couldn’t help but think of the dreadful stuff one sees in the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, but there is of course no comparison. This is Ashton, and the brief middle item in the first part, his ‘Meditation’ from Thaïs, was magical, drawing a calmly riveting performance by Leanne Benjamin and Valeri Hristov. She floated in the air and his body movements exhibited huge strength and security.

Benjamin and Hristov in 'Meditations'

Benjamin and Hristov in ‘Meditations’

Musically too this was a treat. Vasko Vassilev played a wonderful violin for the Meditation, and Robert Clark a fine piano in the Liszt. But the main plaudits must go to Emmanuel Plasson for some of the best conducting I have heard for the Royal Ballet in recent years. His French background is perfect for the Ravel, and the Satie in Monotones, and to my taste he fully brought out the tension and lyricism in the Liszt for Marguerite and Armand.

This is a sell-out, and as some seats can be bought for £6, better value cannot be had in London. Performances with various casts continue until February 23 — for details click here.

Sleeping Beauty with Rojo and Muntagirov, English National Ballet, ENB, London Coliseum, January 2013

10 January, 2013

Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Sleeping Beauty, with its glorious costumes by Nicholas Geogiardis, is a joy to watch, the sets by Peter Farmer reflecting a mistiness in the world beyond the action like some famous Renaissance paintings. The expression of the action is crystal clear in its use of mime, and for anyone unfamiliar with the conventions a helpful article in the programme is worth reading before seeing the Prologue.

All images ENB/ Patrick Baldwin

All images ENB/ Patrick Baldwin

In this classical Russian take on the fairy tale, the nasty fairy Carabosse is inadvertently omitted from the guest list for the christening, and as the king checks the list and is reassured it is complete, this was beautifully mimed to say nothing of what follows. The orchestra in the meantime gave a fine rendering of Tchaikovsky’s wonderful score under the baton of Gavin Sutherland, who allowed the music to swell with emotion at appropriate moments.

Already in the Prologue some of the solos were terrific, and those fairy variations where they endow the baby with beauty, wit, physical grace, vocal grace, and musical perfection, were a delight. Adela Ramirez showed musicality and beautiful control in the second variation, Laurretta Summerscales was magically musical in the slow third, and Nancy Osbaldeston performed exquisite jumps in the fifth. I could quibble with slightly slow tempos in two of the variations, including the sixth one for the Lilac Fairy, but overall the musical rendering was wonderful and Daria Klimentova was an elegant and eloquent Lilac Fairy throughout the ballet.

Carabosse and attendants

Carabosse and attendants

In the nineteenth century when this ballet was first produced the tradition was to have characters like Carabosse played by men, and James Streeter gave a wonderful portrayal, showing huge emotion and anger rather than the one-dimensional nastiness one sometimes sees. And in this production she remains on stage in Act II to counter the magic of the Lilac Fairy, until finally the prince kisses the princess and Carabosse falls to the stage. Glorious theatre.

Good magic versus dark

Good magic versus dark

As the prince himself, Vadim Muntagirov also gave an intriguing portrayal, showing at his first appearance in Act II ennui, frustration and a need for something he doesn’t yet quite grasp. As the music changes, the backdrop of a dense wood comes down, the Lilac Fairy appears and the prince can start to feel his own emotions. By Act III Muntagirov showed himself so full of joy he looked two inches taller, and his main solo was thrilling. The pas-de-deux with Tamara Rojo as the princess was perfect, and her pirouettes beyond compare. For the artistic director of the company to take on this huge role is quite an achievement, and she was superb if somewhat joyless.

Muntagirov and Rojo

Muntagirov and Rojo

But whatever dancers you see in this production, the costumes, sets, orchestra and corps de ballet remain the same, and there was fine dancing from the corps with some excellent solo work. In Act III, Anjuli Hudson, Senri Kou and Laurretta Summerscales were a very strong trio in the silver variation, Anjuli Hudson and Nancy Osbaldeston were both delightful as The White Cat and Red Riding Hood, and Yonah Acosta was a very fine Bluebird with Shiori Kase as his princess. The woodwind was terrific, with Gareth Hulse making wonderful sounds on the oboe for the White Cat episode.

This production, first performed by the ENB seven years ago, is as good as you will see anywhere, and the Prologue, which can be a bit camp in some productions, is very well judged. Wonderful conducting by Gavin Sutherland kept the tension up throughout — a super performance.

Performances at the London Coliseum continue until January 19, followed by the New Theatre, Oxford from February 19 to 23, and the Southampton Mayflower from February 26 to March 2 — for details click here.

Metamorphosis: Titian 2012, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, July 2012

15 July, 2012

This triple bill, inspired by three Titian paintings currently on view at the National Gallery (Diana and CallistoDiana and Actaeon, and The Death of Actaeon), is a tribute to Monica Mason who is retiring as artistic director of the Royal Ballet. The three ballets involved seven choreographers!

Nuñez as Diana with nymphs, all images ROH/ Johan Persson

The theme of the paintings finally came to life in the last ballet Diana and Actaeon, beautifully choreographed by Liam Scarlett, Will Tucket and Jonathan Watkins. Here we see Actaeon and his hounds, Diana and her nymphs, and witness the clash between them when he enters their space. The transformation scene where his purple hunting outfit converts to brown with dark legs, like a stag, was very well done, and when his hounds attack him, blood soaked pieces of ragged flesh appear round his haunches. The choreography was intriguingly inventive, and the pas-de-deux between Federico Bonelli as Actaeon, and Marianela Nuñez as Diana, amply expressed confusion on both sides until she finally takes command, and her nymphs come on to effect the transformation.

The set designs by Chris Ofili were fabulous, with bold colours expressing an otherworldly forest scene, reminiscent of Bakst’s dramatic designs for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Dramatic dancing too from the large cast, in which Bonelli and Nuñez were exceptional. Music by Jonathan Dove, beautifully conducted by Dominic Grier, was wonderfully expressive, and the singers Kim Sheehan and Andrew Rees were excellent. This final item of the triple bill will surely stand on its own in the future and I look forward to seeing it again.

Melissa Hamilton and others in Trespass

It was particularly welcome after the second item, Trespass, featuring dull choreography by Alastair Marriott and Christopher Wheeldon to some dreary music by Mark-Anthony Turnage, conducted by Barry Wordsworth. The dancers did their best with it, and the set design by Mark Wallinger featured a huge, curved, two-way mirror, apparently inspired by the idea that Diana is goddess of the moon, and that Actaeon is trespassing on a lunar landscape. The effect of the mirror probably depended where you sat, and I suspect the ballet looked far better from the Stalls, than the Amphi.

Machina/ Acosta and Benjamin

The first item, Machina, had a more direct appeal. Here was Diana represented by designer William Shawcross as a massive industrial robot, with a light at the end of its arm. Its arm movements were so interesting one could almost miss the dance choreography. Nico Muhly’s wonderful music, very well conducted by Tom Seligman, formed a fine basis for the choreography by Kim Brandstrup and Wayne McGregor, and the only problem, as in many of McGregor’s pieces was the distraction of the clever lighting. The huge robot with the light on its arm rather overwhelmed the dancers towards the end, and the lighting by Lucy Carter showed an intriguing use of shadows as the machine moved gradually from invisibility to superb clarity. The main dancers, Leanne Benjamin, Tamara Rojo, Carlos Acosta and Edward Watson were simply superb, exhibiting the choreography to huge advantage.

But where were the flowers for Tamara Rojo and Leanne Benjamin? Huge bouquets greeted the female principals in the other two works, but there were none here. This is becoming standard practice where Rojo is concerned, and if the Royal Ballet were a less confident company one might suspect some machinations behind the scenes, since Rojo is leaving to become Artistic Director of the ENB. Surely there is another reason, particularly since this was a great tribute to Monica Mason, who appeared on stage at the end looking absolutely delighted.

The next performance is a live relay on July 16 to BP big screens, and two other performances follow on July 17 and 20 — for details click here.

Royal Ballet Triple: Birthday Offering/ A Month in the Country/ Les Noces, Covent Garden, June/July 2012

1 July, 2012

This triple bill offers an evening of glorious choreography, opening with the exuberance of Ashton’s Birthday Offering.

Rojo and Bonelli, all images ROH/ Tristram Kenton

Birthday Offering, first shown in 1956 for the 25th anniversary of the Company (then known as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet), starts with the melodious phrases of Glazunov’s Concert Waltz No. 1, and Tom Seligman in the orchestra pit made it swell with pride and energy. The choreography is full of charm and inventiveness, and the fourteen dancers, led by Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli, performed it beautifully. Among the six supporting men I particularly liked Brian Maloney, who showed wonderful head and arm movements, and the seven variations for the girls were a delight, starting superbly with Yuhui Choe. Helen Crawford showed excellent technique in the very difficult variation number seven, and Tamara Rojo came last in variation six, dancing brilliantly, both alone and with Bonelli. Costumes by Andre Levasseur are stunning, and this made a perfect start to the evening, but where was the floral bouquet for Rojo? A similar thing happened to her with the recent Prince of the Pagodas — very odd.

Yanowsky and Pennefather

From the unalloyed pleasure of Birthday Offering the evening moved to the drama of A Month in the Country, created by Ashton in 1976. To music by Chopin, arranged by John Lanchbery, this one-act ballet condenses the main aspects of Turgenev’s play using choreography that fully expresses the emotions of the characters. Zenaida Yanowsky gave a superb portrayal of the mother, exhibiting her customary flirtation with Rakitin at the start, followed by her attraction for the new tutor and finally her anguish at his departure. As he flees the house she struck a lovely pose of pensive regret by the doorway before stepping very slowly into the room, bringing the ballet to its close. In the meantime her sudden loss of interest in Rakitin was perfectly expressed, and Gary Avis gave a finely drawn portrait of this family friend. Her jealousy of Vera was beautifully judged, and Emma Maguire was superb as Vera, with her own fit of jealousy stunningly expressed. As the attractive young  tutor, who brings such immense confusion to the household, Rupert Pennefather was perfect, showing in his solos just the right joy and angst on occasion, and his partnering of both the mother and Vera was beautifully done. This performance of Month was worth the whole triple bill, with Birthday Offering as one bonus, and Les Noces as another.

Les Noces with Christina Arestis (top) as the bride

Les Noces is an extraordinary work, supported not only by an orchestra, but four pianists, and four vocal soloists plus chorus. Bronislava Nijinska’s stylised choreography to music and song-text by Stravinsky shows the preparations and ritual surrounding a peasant wedding, and Natalia Goncharova’s costumes in brown and white express the unifying power and conservatism of the local culture. There are analogies with the Rite of Spring, but here the chosen one is the bride whose previous life is being converted to one of procreation and duty to her husband, according to the implacable force of tradition and the collective will of the community. The dancers brought the choreography to life with huge force, and Ryoichi Hirano made the bridegroom a tall and powerful figure, with Christina Arestis suitably pliant as the wife. This ballet, always an invigorating experience to watch, brought the evening to a perfect close.

It’s a triple bill not to be missed, and I shall report on a different cast next week. Performances continue only until July 7, so book immediately — for details click here.

The Prince of the Pagodas, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, June 2012

3 June, 2012

King Lear meets Sleeping Beauty in this mid-1950s fairy tale creation by John Cranko, to music commissioned from Benjamin Britten. After the Cranko ballet fell out of the repertoire, Kenneth MacMillan made his own version in 1989. This revival now contains some cuts to the music that he originally intended, but was not permitted to make.

The central character is Princess Rose, who leaves her father’s court, his crown having been taken by her elder half-sister, Princess Épine. She travels to the Other World, conquers her fears and returns to re-enliven the king, put Épine to flight, and become betrothed once more to her prince.

Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish, all images Johan Persson

Marianela Nuñez was a serenely beautiful Princess Rose, who danced divinely, and Tamara Rojo was enormously powerful as the scheming Princess Épine. Nehemiah Kish as the prince made a fine partner for Nuñez, and gave a strong performance as the salamander whose form he takes, testing Rose’s ability to show compassion and move beyond mere platonic love.

Nuñez and Kish in Act II

The four kings from Acts I and III, who appear in nightmarish form in Act II, were superbly danced by Bennet Gartside (north), Valeri Hristov (east), Steven McRae (west) and Ricardo Cervera (south), and despite the disguising make-up, McRae’s wonderful dancing gave him away, and his camp portrayal was glorious. The big male solo role of the Fool, who guides Princess Rose, was brilliantly performed by Alexander Campbell, and the whole company danced beautifully. Alastair Marriott was excellent as the old king who, like Lear, is apportioning his kingdom to his daughters. His body language reminded me of the Red King in Checkmate, and his recovery when Rose reappears was superbly performed.

The fine designs by Nicholas Georgiardis are well lit by John B. Read, and we have Monica Mason to thank for a well-judged revival of this MacMillan ballet. The large orchestra under the baton of Barry Wordsworth was once again in top form after the recent Salome, and considering the huge amount of work and careful attention to detail by the team responsible for this production it is astonishing the Royal Opera House made such a mess of the flowers at the end. Nuñez received three lovely bouquets, while Rojo merely got a small bunch wrapped in paper. Embarrassing for the Company, and something of an insult to a superb dancer who is leaving soon to become artistic director of the English National Ballet. She will be sorely missed and the audience roared their approval at her solo curtain calls.

Performances continue until June 29 — for details click here.

Royal Ballet Triple: Polyphonia/ Sweet Violets/ Carbon Life, Covent Garden, April 2012

6 April, 2012

This was an entirely twenty-first century triple bill.

Polyphonia, all images by Bill Cooper

The first work, Christopher Wheeldon’s Polyphonia, set to ten piano pieces by Ligeti, was first shown in New York at the start of the century, January 2001. The large Covent Garden stage gave space to the spare minimalism of Wheeldon’s choreography, with darkness sometimes surrounding a spot for the dancers. It has the sense of a sequence of études created for four couples, and along with the pas-de-deux work there is a section for three female dancers and another for two males in contest with one another. The silences between the ten sections and the purity of the piano sound give it a contemplative feel, and it was beautifully danced. It was only spoilt by some handkerchief-less members of the audience who couldn’t control their tousserie.

Leanne Cope and Thiago Soares

Sweet Violets is such a pretty title, quite in contrast to the content of this brilliant new work by Liam Scarlett. It starts with an incident on September 11th, 1907 when a part-time prostitute named Emily Dimmock was murdered in her own home. Her partner returned the next day to find her throat slit from ear to ear. Nothing had been taken, the motive was a mystery, and this infamous Camden Town Murder was never solved. What inspired Scarlett was a series of paintings and drawings by Walter Sickert, who specialised in portraying the deep, dark underworld of London. His role was performed with admirable understatement by Johan Kobborg, whose friend was the murderer in this take on the story. Sickert’s friend, very well portrayed by Thiago Soares, obviously has two sides to his nature, and the fight with the prostitute was wonderfully realistic as he grappled with Leanne Cope, superb as the unfortunate Emily Dimmock. But that is only the start. This is a full-length story in one act, intense, brutal, and with ramifications at the highest level.

Kobborg as Sickert and McRae as Jack

The story has been set in the late 1880s when Queen Victoria’s grandson Eddy was still alive, and Lord Salisbury was prime minister. Both or them appear here, portrayed by Federico Bonelli and Christopher Saunders, to say nothing of Jack the Ripper, played as a very sinister character by Steven McRae. Laura Morera, Alina Cojocaru and Tamara Rojo danced beautifully, the first two as historical characters, and Rojo as an alluring artist’s model. This was a fabulous performance by an all-power cast, and a senior member of the Company told me the other cast is equally terrific.

Rachmaninov’s music for piano, violin and cello was beautifully played, and John Macfarlane’s designs, with David Finn’s lighting, gave a sombre, threatening atmosphere to the whole business. The clever use at one point of a stage and audience within the stage allows us to see the backs of the performers, making it feel as if we are looking in at things we should not really see. I shall go again, and again. Scarlett’s inspired new work is worth the whole triple bill.

Carbon Life

The third item, Carbon Life was a new creation by Wayne McGregor. Like his other work it involved unusual lighting design, this time by Lucy Carter, and I loved the clever way in which the dancers at the start appeared to glow in the dark. The whole thing was in several parts, with rock music and rap performed by musicians behind the dancers. Costumes ranged from simple swimming trunks to elaborate black outfits having pointed hoods, with cross-dressing allowed. The overall impression was of a very high quality music and dance video. Fun, balletic, and full of frivolity.

Performances of this triple bill continue until April 23 — for details click here.

Romeo and Juliet with Rojo and Acosta, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, January 2012

11 January, 2012

This was stunning. MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet is full of wonderful choreography, and on the opening night of the present run it was superbly danced by the whole company, with the lead roles gloriously performed by Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo.

Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta

She was among the finest Juliets I have ever seen, so shy and playfully girlish when she first appears with her nurse, yet seeming to float through the air in the main pas-de-deux with Romeo at the party in Act I. Acosta as Romeo was a powerful presence throughout, and his solo in the Act II public square was magnificent. His partnership with Rojo glowed with passion, and just the right amount of cheekiness when they wave goodbye as he and his friends leave the party. Her body language was quite remarkable: the scenes with Romeo where she walks on air, the scenes with Paris whom she quickly grows to detest, and the anguish as she decides to use the potion given her by Friar Laurence.

Yet it was not all Acosta and Rojo. The rest of the cast was superb, with Gary Avis a restrained Tybalt, so provoked by the Montagues that he finally loses it. This is surely the right way to play Tybalt, rather than being almost out of control from the word go, which I’ve seen sometimes. Johannes Stepanek made a wonderfully wimpish Paris, Christopher Saunders a brutally forceful Capulet, and Elizabeth McGorian a suitably emotive Lady Capulet. José Martín was a fine Mercutio, and some of the smaller parts glowed with inspiration. Right at the start Christina Arestis gave a lovely portrayal of Romeo’s initial flame Rosaline, and both she and Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani as Lady Montague moved with natural grace, getting the épaulement and head tilting to perfection.

The Capulet Ball in Act I

With designs by Nicholas Georgiadis this looks perennially fresh, and then of course there is Prokofiev’s wonderfully emotional music, which was played with huge energy and verve by the orchestra under the direction of Pavel Sorokin. The musical side of things does not always come off so well, but this performance got the present run off to a terrific start — not to be missed.

Further performances with various casts continue until March 31 — for details click here.

Royal Ballet Triple: Asphodel Meadows, Enigma Variations, Gloria, Covent Garden, November 2011

20 November, 2011

The first and last items on this excellent programme are to music by Poulenc, and both these two ballets — though not the music — deal with death. In an announcement at the start of the evening, a request was made for no applause during Gloria. As a result the audience seemed hesitant about applauding the first item, Asphodel Meadows, though several people applauded, more than once, during the third item, Gloria, before being shushed by others. How much better if the Royal Opera House had saved the announcement until just before Gloria!

Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera, photo Johan Persson

The revival of Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows, which had its premiere in May 2010, is most welcome. The music is Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra, danced by an ensemble of fourteen plus three principal couples, one for each movement of the concerto. The first pair of principals, Rupert Pennefather and Marianela Nunez in brown, showed immense emotion in their movements, and their pas-de-deux in the slow middle section of the first movement was beautifully done. Tamara Rojo and Bennett Gartside in charcoal danced the Larghetto, and Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera in burgundy the Allegro of the third movement. Flawless dancing of great musicality, and Tamara Rojo in particular was striking in her superb control. The ensemble work was excellent, and this was a perfect start to an evening ending with the bleak World War I retrospective of Gloria, as the meadows of asphodel appear in Homer’s Odyssey (Book XI, line 539), where Odysseus travels to Hades and encounters the shades of dead heroes.

Carlos Acosta in Gloria, Dee Conway

Poulenc’s Gloria in G, in praise of God, was used by Kenneth MacMillan for this elegy to those whose lives were lost or blighted by the Great War. Andy Klunder’s fine designs show the men with helmets, though their uniforms and flesh have been torn off, and the metal-frame ruin over a trench is a stark reminder of a wasteland of death where ghostly men and women emerge from the horizon. Sarah Lamb was beautifully moving as the woman in mourning, well partnered by Thiago Soares, and Laura Morera was the fearless girl, tossed about by Valeri Hristov, Kenta Kura and Johannes Stepanek. The ballet is based on Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, and the female soloists both reflect aspects of her personality. She lost her lover and her brother during the war, and Carlos Acosta was superb in his solo role, showing a fierce intensity in his portrayal. His solos were gripping, and as the sole figure on stage at the end he pauses, and suddenly drops out of sight behind the abyss.

Enigma Variations, photo Dee Conway

Sandwiched between these two memorials to the victims of war, performed less than two weeks after Armistice Day, was Ashton’s brilliant ballet to Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Christopher Saunders portrayed Elgar himself, with Christina Arestis as his wife. Her fluidity of body language was pure Ashton, and a joy to watch. Nehemiah Kish and Lara Turk were well cast as the contemplative scholar subduing his emotions, and the young romantic girl with whom he’s in love, and this genteel pas-de-deux is followed by a complete contrast with Edward Watson giving a remarkable performance of the difficult and demanding Troyte variation. One contrast follows another, and Bennet Gartside was a finely understated Jaeger in the Nimrod variation, followed by Roberta Marquez as Dorabella. Her body and arm movements were beautiful in this fiendishly difficult solo, though some musicality was lacking, and José Martín was enormous fun in the bulldog solo. In the end it was Christopher Saunders and Christina Arestis who framed this ballet so beautifully, and the evening was well conducted by Barry Wordsworth.

This is a triple bill not to miss. Performances continue until November 30 — for details click here.

Review of Sleeping Beauty, with Rojo and Bonelli, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, October 2011

1 November, 2011

Colourful new costumes with Oliver Messel’s original designs updated by Peter Farmer, fine ensemble dancing and some excellent solos, what more could one want? Well … coordinating the conducting better with the dancing would help.

Tamara Rojo in Act II, all photos Bill Cooper

During the first interval, a lady from the audience told me she thought only one of the fairy variations in the Prologue was well danced, and that was Emma Maguire in the fifth variation (Fairy of the Golden Vine). Certainly she showed enormous poise and control, as she did in the pas-de-trois from Act III, along with fine performances by Hikaru Kobayashi and Kenta Kura. But what went wrong with the other variations in the Prologue? The audience was lukewarm about the first four (Yuhui Choe, Helen Crawford, Hikaru Kobayashi, Samantha Raine), but I’m inclined to blame the conducting, which I found sluggish. After Itziar Mendizabal followed with the Lilac Fairy’s variation, the young men dance, but the music was terribly plodding, which makes it hard for the dancers. Good performances on stage however, as the king throws the invitation list to the floor, realising his master of ceremonies has omitted Carabosse, and then on she came with her ghastly attendants. Genesia Rosato was a fine Carabosse, but as her coach exited something crashed. A bit of extra excitement was welcome and the audience around me were amused.

Back for Act I with the delightful Tamara Rojo as Princess Aurora, and Gary Avis showing fine stage presence as the English prince. Pity about the ragged brass at the start of Act I, and pity about the Christopher Wheeldon’s new choreography for the Garland Dance, which is supposed to be a waltz. Problems with the brass reappeared in Act II, but Boris Gruzin’s conducting warmed up later in that Act, and the journey to the sleeping realm came over effectively.

Rojo and Bonelli in Act III

Act III contained some very fine dancing: the pas-de-trois of Florestan and his Sisters by Kobayashi, Kura and Maguire, as I mentioned earlier, and Yuhui Choe was a brilliant Princess Florine with her partner Alexander Campbell as the Bluebird. They danced beautifully together, and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf were wittily portrayed by Leanne Cope and Johannes Stepanek, with the little trees that now come on stage adding a nice touch. As the principal characters, Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli formed a fine partnership and came over as real fairy tale characters, he the perfect dark haired prince and she showing the reserve befitting a princess who is manipulated by forces outside her immediate control.

This revamped production with its new costumes is certainly worth seeing, though I hope the Company can make more rehearsal time available for putting the orchestra together with the dancers.

Performances with various casts continue until December 21 — for details click here.