Les Patineurs – Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Olivia Cowley, Celisa Diuna, Kristen McNally, Ryoichi Hirano, Kenta Kura, Ernst Meisner & Andrej Uspenski
White Couple – Sarah Lamb & Rupert Pennefather
Red Girls – Cindy Jourdain & Laura McCulloch
Blue Girls – Yuhui Choe & Laura Morera
Blue Boy – Steven McRae
Frederick Ashton – Choreography
Giacomo Meyerbeer – Music (Le Prophète and L’Etoile du Nord (excerpts) arr Lambert)
William Chappell – Design
John B Read – Lighting Design
Tales of Beatrix Potter
Johnny Town-Mouse – Ricardo Cervera
Mrs Tittlemouse – Bethany Keating
Four Mice – Leanne Cope, Emma Maguire, Fernando Montaño & Michael Stojko
Mrs Tiggy-Winkle – Jonathan Howells
Jemima Puddle-Duck – Samantha Raine
Fox – Gary Avis
Pigling Bland – Bennet Gartside
Pig-Wig – Laura Morera
Five Pigs – Celisa Diuana, Francesca Filpi, Sian Murphy, Jonathan Watkins & James Wilkie
Mrs Pettitoes – Eric Underwood
Mr Jeremy Fisher – Kenta Kura
Tom Thumb – Ludovic Ondiviela
Hunca Munca – Iohna Loots
Peter Rabbit – Joahnnes Stepanek
Squirrel Nutkin – Paul Kay
Four Squirrels – Elizabeth Harrod, Sabina Westcombe, Romany Pajdak & Gemma Pitchley-Gale
Eight Country Mice – Junior Associates of the Royal Ballet School
Frederick Ashton – Choreography
John Lanchbery – Music
Anthony Dowell – Production
Christine Edzard – Design
Rostislav Doboujinsky – Masks
Mark Jonathan – Lighting Design
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia
Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler
Reviewed: 14 December, 2009
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Les Patineurs is Ashton’s 1937 evocation of a Victorian skating rink in a park. Set in William Chappell’s delicious lantern strewn clearing, the ballet progresses as skaters of varying levels of competence take to the ice. Ashton had never seen skating on ice, so this superb work springs directly form his imagination and what he had seen in books: dancers slide and swish across the stage, spinning circles and moving in great arcs of movement.
This revival is bright as a button, corps to principals coached immaculately and with many of the grace notes of Ashton’s distinctive style delivered with both assurance and a degree of naturalness. The dancers come across as true Ashton dancers.
Leading the field is the wonderful Steven McRae whose quicksilver technique, speed and attack are well suited to the virtuosity of The Blue Boy, a cocky lad who spins and darts his way through the work. McRae’s final solo of seemingly endless turns as the curtain closes were literally tours de force – fast, faster and then up another notch. He has toned down his interpretation and is a little less heavy with the make-up, all to good effect.
The Blue Girls match him in virtuosity, and two of the company’s most stylish dancers were in cracking form. Laura Morera is the principal in the company with the greatest affinity to Ashton’s movements – his extravagant bends and épaulements – and she impressed not least in her speedy turns and held arabesques penchées. Yuhui Choe is fast rising through the ranks, and with good cause: she is naturally musical and allies stylish and natural movement with strong technique. Her slow, quick, slow fouettés were excellent indeed.
I was impressed by the less accomplished (on ice) Red Girls, although Laura McCulloch has the edge, with a generosity of movement and the coordination of head, arms and torso that is so essential in Ashton. There was also sterling work from a well drilled corps.
Paul Murphy conducted a sprightly performance of this deliciously tuneful score, quickening the pulse of the dance and breathing life into it while the Royal Ballet Sinfonia threw itself wholeheartedly into this music and contributed greatly to the overall success. A notable performance indeed.
If dancing pigs, squirrels and sundry livestock are not for you, then the interval is the time to leave, because Tales of Beatrix Potter is back in town. If you hate that sort of thing (and one suspects that Ashton himself would not have permitted its transfer to the stage by Anthony Dowell) it is an hour of sickly sweet toe dancing in silly costumes. If, like me, you fall for its charms, it is sixty minutes of innocent, escapist bliss.
As with Les Patineurs, the revival is vintage, the cast alive to the nuances that exist despite the furry masks and body suits which so perfectly recreate Potter’s characters. It is such fun, and though a tad long, full of many felicities. The children ooooh and aaaah when they see familiar characters, the adults purr in nostalgic wallowing and the balletomanes count Ashton’s numerous, sly references to ballets from the classical and his own repertoire: Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, The Dream, Fille mal gardée cascade from the stage while we think ‘this is Fred having fun!’. Outstanding was Jonathan Howells’ Mrs Tiggywinkle, the benign hedgehog, created by Ashton for himself and designed to show off his narrow, elegant ankles (of which he was immensely proud). Howells has been with the company for a long time, and understands Ashton – his execution of the ‘Fred Step’, a lucky movement which the choreographer put into almost every ballet he made, was spot on.
Bennett Gartside’s goofy Pigling Bland and Laura Morera’s characterful and intensely musical Pig-Wig made their pas de deux a real highlight, while Paul Kay bounced and bristled as the cheekiest of Squirrel Nutkins. A romp, a delight, a soufflé maybe – but delicious nevertheless.