The Royal Ballet – Kenneth MacMillan Triple Bill [Concerto … Las hermanas … Requiem]


Dancers – Meghan Grace Hinkis, Alexander Campbell, Marianela Nuñez, Rupert Pennefather, Clare Calvert, Olivia Cowley, Melissa Hamilton, Lara Turk, Kenta Kura, Brian Maloney, Dawid Trzensimiech

Kate Shipway (piano)

Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Dmitri Shostakovitch – Music [Piano Concerto No.2 in F, Op.102]
Jürgen Rose – Designs
John B. Read – Lighting
Christopher Carr – Staging

Las hermanas

The Man – Thomas Whitehead
The Mother – Genesia Rosato
The Eldest Sister – Alina Cojocaru
The Youngest Sister – Beatriz Stix-Brunell
The Jealous Sister – Itziar Mendizabal
The Other Sisters– Elizabeth Harrod, Romany Padjak

Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Frank Martin – Music [Concerto for harpsichord and small orchestra]
Nicholas Georgiadis – Designs
John B. Read – Lighting
Ray Barra – Staging


Dancers – Yuhui Choe, Thiago Soares, Edward Watson, Helen Crawford, Alexander Campbell

Laura Wright (soprano) & George Humphreys (baritone)

The Royal Opera Chorus

Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Gabriel Fauré – Music [Requiem in D minor, Op.48]
Yolanda Sonnabend in association with Peter Farley – Designs
John B. Read – Lighting
Christopher Saunders – Staging

Artists of The Royal Ballet

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Barry Wordsworth

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 21 November, 2012
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Sarah Lamb & Ryoichi Hirano in Concerto. Photograph: Johan PerssonIt is two decades since the untimely death of one of this country’s greatest choreographers: Kenneth MacMillan. His influence on ballet in this country and on The Royal Ballet companies in particular cannot be overstated, forming, along with Frederick Ashton, the backbone of classical dance in this country. The Royal Ballet revived his last full-length work The Prince of the Pagodas last season and here, new Director Kevin O’Hare schedules almost perversely a meaty triple bill of works which were not created in the UK but in Germany. Artistically, however, it makes sense: MacMillan used the freedom afforded by his absence from the establishment of Covent Garden to explore and expand his work, to broaden his approach – Las hermanas for Stuttgart in 1963, Concerto for the Deutsche Oper, Berlin in 1966, and Requiem again for Stuttgart in 1973.

Sarah Lamb & Ryoichi Hirano in Concerto. Photograph: Johan PerssonDespite Concerto being a work created by the choreographer to forge a company spirit and stylistic coherence in Berlin, the established and experienced Royal Ballet has never seemed comfortable in it – revivals have tended to the dutiful, and this latest is no exception, not helped by funereal tempos. What results is an absence of zest and vitality, steps carefully rather than joyously executed (this is an exultantly plotless work), matters never really taking off until well into the last movement when the corps de ballet enters and the ballet moves towards its conclusion. Of the soloists, Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather expertly delivered the glorious central pas de deux, but missing was the seemless arc of phrasing that it ultimately needs – beautiful poses and glorious plastique, but missing the serenity that should suffuse this most melting of duets. Clare Calvert is a joy to watch, but she needed quicker tempos to endow her movement with the requisite quick-fire quality. John B. Read’s lighting in the central movement tended to the sombre, the soloists’ faces too often indistinct in the gloom, despite the warming disc of orange light on the backcloth. Kate Shipway was the piano soloist.

Las hermanas is a confined and claustrophobic as Concerto is open and bright, Nicholas Georgiadis’s setting deftly evoking the interior of Bernarda Alba’s hen-coop household of women. This is a splendid staging by Ray Barra, MacMillan’s original Man, superbly rendered by the entire cast. MacMillan distils Lorca’s play, exploring expressionist movement to create this pressure-cooker of female desire which explodes to destroy the family. Alina Cojocaru brilliantly explored the persona of the Eldest Sister, too old to give herself fully to her betrothed, unable to express and indulge deep-buried sexual desire which has lain dormant for too long. Beatriz Stix-Brunell plays the youngest sister as an early version of Mayerling’s Mary Vetsera, coiling herself around Thomas Whithead, his masculinity oozing like sweat in the Andalucian heat. Whitehead copes professionally with a Movember moustache and tailor’s dummy wig. Itziar Mendizabal is a true bitch of a jealous sister, slowly realising the true consequences of her bile as she sees the lives of two of her siblings unravel in front of her ahead of the shocking final moments. Genesia Rosato was as implacable a matriarch as one could have wished for. Superb orchestral and instrumental playing of Frank Martin’s disturbing harpsichord concerto, too

Leanne Benjamin & dancers of The Royal Ballet in Requiem. Photograph: ROH, Johan PerssonSuperb, too, Requiem, an extraordinary work which sees an outpouring of grief for the dead John Cranko, MacMillan’s great friend. The Royal Ballet danced it superbly, the entire cast (large and well-rehearsed) engaged fully in its world of movement. Yuhui Choe was serene as the ‘spirit’ who flits in and out of the work, as floaty as her gauze-like costume, giving a wonderfully poised Pie Jesu solo, though lacking as yet the experience that Leanne Benjamin brings. Her duet with Thiago Soares was a clunky affair, the admittedly challenging partnering required not yet sure and seamless, but elsewhere all was well. Towering above it was Edward Watson’s performance as the ‘Everyman’. Clad only in a pale loincloth, Watson’s remarkable physique carved out MacMillan’s choreography with astonishing clarity, his milk-white skin tone lending an added layer of symbolism to this work concerning mortality and the spirit. Watson is a remarkable artist whose affinity with the choreographer’s work is both long-standing and of uncommon depth – no doubt MacMillan would have relished creating ballets for him, such is his artistry and his individuality as a dancer. A performance to admire, to mesmerise, to treasure.

Yolanda Sonnabend’s body-tights and her ‘pillars of light’ are still effective. Slightly unidiomatic singing form the Royal Opera Chorus, even if suitably lusty when called for; Laura Wright was a pure-toned soprano soloist and George Humphreys’ baritione was a little light. Orchestral playing of distinction.

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