The Royal Ballet – George Balanchine’s Apollo & Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux; Jerome Robbins’s Dances at a Gathering

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux
Dances at a Gathering

Apollo – Vadim Muntagirov
Terpsichore – Yasmine Naghdi
Calliope – Anna Rose O’sullivan
Polyhymnia – Mayara Magri
Handmaidens – Leticia Dias & Amelia Townsend
Leto – Gina Storm-Jensen

Choreography – George Balanchine
Music – Igor Stravinsky [Apollo]
Lighting Designer – John B. Read
Staging – Patricia Neary
Principal Coaching – Edward Watson

Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux
Dancers – Natalia Osipova And Reece Clarke

Choreography – George Balanchine
Music – Pyotr Il’yich Tchaikovsky [music originally intended for Act Three of Swan Lake, op.20]
Costume Designer – Anthony Dowell
Lighting Designer – John B. Read
Staging – Patricia Neary
Rehearsal Director – Christopher Saunders

Orchestra Of The Royal Opera House
Koen Kessels

Dances at a Gathering
Pink – Marianela Nuñez
Mauve – Francesca Hayward
Apricot – Meaghan Grace Hinkis
Green – Laura Morera
Blue – Fumi Kaneko
Brown – Alexander Campbell
Purple – Federico Bonelli
Green – William Bracewell
Brick – Luca Acri
Blue – Valentino Zucchetti

Robert Clark (Piano)

Choreography – Jerome Robbins
Music – Fryderyk Chopin
Costume Designer – Joe Eula
Lighting Designer – Jennifer Tipton
Staging – Ben Huys
Rehearsal Director – Christopher Saunders
Ballet Mistress – Helen Crawford

5 of 5 stars

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 13 June, 2021
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

A collective sigh of relief was to be heard in Floral Street after the performance of The Royal Ballet’s second ‘come back’ programme; after all, their first had been a dull, ill-conceived and decidedly dispiriting offering which did nothing to raise the shared spirit or herald the return to the stage of one of the world’s finest ballet ensembles.  ‘Balanchine/Robbins’ was another story but, and this is no adverse comment about the dancers of the company, they were dancing A-grade ballets rather than the unimpressive rag-bag of the first programme.  That said, it must be noted that in this second outing, The Royal Ballet management continues to show its allergy both to tutus and classical (as opposed to neo-classical) choreography, and also to its own home-grown repertoire – where are the works by de Valois, Ashton and MacMillan, ballets which forged the company identity and made it what it is today?

None but the most churlish could complain about the return of Apollo, George Balanchine’s 1928 masterpiece for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and certainly not after the luminous performance it received.  Praise first to Koen Kessels and the Opera House orchestra who lovingly delivered Stravinsky’s miraculous score, bringing the Sun god’s warmth to its textures without smoothing out its piquant spikiness.  I can think of no ballet which wears its years so lightly as Apollo; over ninety have passed since its Paris première, yet its inventiveness, its freshness and its brilliance remain utterly undimmed.  London performs a version which is now rarely seen elsewhere, the choreographer himself having shorn later stagings of the introductory scene showing the birth-pains of Leto and the birth of her son.  We are thankful that it continues to do so, as that section underpins the whole work, showing a young deity at first literally finding his feet but also allowing us to comprehend his inquisitive exploration of himself, his power and also of three of his attendant muses before his call to the god head and his own blazing divinity.

Vadim Muntagirov is already established as a classical dancer of the first rank; blessed with ideal proportions and an impeccable technique, he has made the classical repertoire his own, but has struggled at times in roles which have called for detailed characterisation and subtle interpretation.  His assumption of the role of Apollo at The Royal Ballet (he danced it with English National Ballet some years ago) is a major step forward in his development as an artist – rarely, if ever, have I seen such an exciting combination of supreme mastery of the choreography and an exploration of the development of the character.  Muntagirov is as convincing as an adolescent god, bursting into great explosions of unpredictable movement, as he is as a commanding divinity, his will not to be challenged.  Apollo’s three muses are vital in his development and Anna Rose O’Sullivan, Mayara Magri (both recently promoted to the rank of principal) and Yasmine Naghdi took every opportunity to bring detail and difference to their roles.  All too often, these parts can seem similarly athletic, but they are clearly differentiated in their representation of distinct art forms: epic poetry, sacred poetry and dance.  Given this is a ballet, Apollo chooses Terpsichore in a contest between them and there follows a duet of heart-stopping beauty in which the god learns much about intimacy and emotion.  Naghdi is simply an ideal interpreter of the role, her diamantine technique allowing her to trace the art deco choreography with the cleanest of lines.  Her brilliance as an artist, however, is how she marries that quality with a powerful sensuality; her use of her arms and upper body is particularly striking and she displays an impressive understanding of how to delay, prolong and extend a move or pose.  In all, this was as fine a revival of a major twentieth century masterpiece as one could wish for.

The only thing that should follow Apollo is the interval, allowing the audience to continue to savour its particular flavours, but, true to form, The Royal Ballet tacked on a pas de deux after it in a jarring change of gear, mood and aesthetic.  Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux is a 1960 show-off duet by Balanchine to music composed for but ultimately discarded from Swan Lake and designed to showcase his ballerina in particular, the wondrous French dancer Violette Verdy.  Crucial, therefore, is to field a dancer with something like Verdy’s attributes: not only technical facility but wit, charm and chic. The Russian Natalia Osipova frankly made heavy weather of the role – she is a formidable technician, but that in itself is not enough for this duet, and the slow entrée which leads into a lyrical adagio saw her struggle to set the right tone.  Reece Clarke – a favoured Osipova partner in the company – was as attentive as he could be, but there was little if any chemistry between them.  His solo was smoothly executed and demonstrated a pleasingly soft-footed, pantherine elegance but lacked bravura.  Osipova was far happier in her sparky demi-caractère solo although her musicality remained a little wayward and her dancing relied more on winsomeness than wit.  The exciting coda was emphtically performed by both dancers, but, again, despite the screams of the Osipova fans, there was something missing which prevented the whole undertaking from catching light.

Violette Verdy was evoked again after the interval: she created the ‘Green’ girl in Jerome Robbins’s stunning 1969 Dances at a Gathering.  Since those performances, few interpreters have caught the particular qualities inherent in the role, but at The Royal Ballet, two stand out: Lynn Seymour in 1970 when the work was acquired by the company, and now, as in recent revivals, Laura Morera.  Key to Morera’s success is an uncommon musicality which allows her to weave in and out of Chopin’s Étude (op.25, no.4, in A minor).  When one sees a truly musical dancer, and it is a rare sighting, one understands what dancing can actually communicate and how beautiful it can be.  In an ensemble performance of the greatest beauty and integrity, Morera stood above all others with her entrancing dancing – a moment truly to be treasured.  The cast at this performance was beautifully matched, a tribute to the current strength of the company – but particular mention to the generous movement quality of William Bracewell, who as the ‘green’ boy invests brings a sparky stage presence and an understanding of rubato which make his every entrance worthy of note.

Star ratings:
Apollo ★★★★★
Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux ★★★☆☆
Dances at a Gathering ★★★★★

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