The Royal Ballet – Les Patineurs … Tales of Beatrix Potter

“Les Patineurs”
Ballet to Meyerbeer’s “Le Prophète” and “L’Etoile du nord” arranged by Constant Lambert

Pas des Patineurs – Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Helen Crawford, Natalie Harrison, Sian Murphy, Ryoichi Hirano, Kenta Kura, Ernst Meisner & Eric Underwood
Entrée – Mara Galeazzi & Sarah Lamb
Variation – José Martin
Pas de Deux – Alexandra Ansanelli & Valeri Hristov
Ensemble – Mara Galeazzi, Sarah Lamb, José Martin, Alexandra Ansanelli, Valeri Hristov, Cindy Jourdain, Laura McCulloch & the Pas des Patineurs dancers
Pas de trois – Mara Galeazzi, Sarah Lamb & José Martin
Pas de deux filles – Cindy Jourdain & Laura McCulloch
Pas de six – Cindy Jourdain, Laura McCulloch, Ryoichi Hirano, Kenta Kura, Ernst Meisner & Eric Underwood
Finale – Ensemble

Frederick Ashton – Choreographer
William Chappell – Designer
John B Read – Lighting Designer
Christopher Carr, Grant Coyle – Staging
Gary Avis – Ballet Master
Ursula Hageli – Ballet Mistress

“Tales of Beatrix Potter”Ballet to music by John Lanchbery

Johnny Town-Mouse – Ricardo Cervera
Mrs Tittlemouse – Victoria Hewitt
Four Mice – Gemma Bond, Caroline Duprot, Paul Kay & Michael Stojko
Mrs Tiggy-Winkle – Jonathan Howells
Jemima Puddle-Duck – Gemma Sykes
Fox – Gary Avis
Pigling Bland – Bennet Gartside
Pig-Wig – Laura Morera
Five Pigs – Yuhui Choe, Celisa Diuana, Kristen McNally, Ludovic Ondiviela & James Wilkie
Mrs Pettitoes – David Pickering
Mr Jeremy Fisher – Zachary Faruque
Tom Thumb – Giacomo Ciriaci
Hunca Munca – Iohna Loots
Peter Rabbit – Joshua Tuifua
Squirrel Nutkin – Steven McRae
Four Squirrels – Leanne Cope, Emma Maguire, Romany Pajdak & Gemma Pitchley-Gale
Eight Country Mice – Junior Associates of the Royal Ballet School

Frederick Ashton – Choreographer
Anthony Dowell – Producer
Christine Edzard – Designer
Rostislav Doboujinsky – Masks
Mark Jonathan – Lighting Designer
Christopher Carr & Grant Coyle – Staging
Gary Avis – Ballet Master

The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Paul Murphy

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Reviewed by: Michael Darvell

Reviewed: 23 December, 2007
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Les Patineurs. ©Johan PerssonAs if to prove that dance at Christmas is not only about ‘Nutcrackers’, Royal Ballet provides an alternative in this double-bill of ballets by Frederick Ashton. Les Patineurs dates from 1937 and has been a popular addition to not only Royal Ballet’s repertoire but also with other companies around the world. It is a simple idea: a winter landscape with bare trees, a set of arches across the stage and Chinese lanterns to make it appear as seasonal as possible. It is in nine sections with ensembles, a solo, several duos and a trio in which the dancers all appear to be skating. It is not a narrative piece, just a collection of divertissements combined under the umbrella of skaters on a frozen pond. However, like the real thing, ice-skating as a spectator sport, that is, Ashton’s ballet becomes mesmerising in it own particular way.

Coming from the 1930s it has a definite feeling of the dances of its time. Then Ashton was involved in all sorts of dance genres, popular, social and classical. Les Patineurs seems to include all three styles. At the time the choreographer was working on revues, works for classical ballet and, as here, social dancing. The influence of Fred Astaire looms over the piece which is quite cinematic as its moves directly from one dance to another as the skaters move and glide through their steps apparently with great ease and seemingly little or effort at all: the art that conceals art.

José Martin in 'Les Patineurs'. ©Johan PerssonIt is an ensemble piece but there are occasions for a few individual fireworks to be ignited. Chief among these is José Martin who appears in several of the sections and brings the finale to a dazzling close as he is left on the ice in a never-ending series of amazing pirouettes. Mara Galeazzi and Sarah Lamb join him in some stunning movements in the Ensemble section. There is a definite feeling of Christmas in the air with such a charmingly simple but skilfully managed piece as Les Patineurs.

Tales of Beatrix Potter. ©Johan PerssonIf Les Patineurs has the spirit of Christmas about it, then Tales of Beatrix Potter provides an outing to the pantomime. The music for the ballet was culled by John Lanchbery from a number of 19th-century sources: no names, no pack-drill – all rumpty-tumpty tunes that are pleasing to the ear. And who could resist Christine Edzard’s designs and Rostislav Doboujinsky’s masks for Beatrix Potter’s animals? They seem to have leapt straight off the page of the ever-popular children’s books. Note that “The Tale of Jemima Puddle-Duck” celebrates its centenary in 2008 and there is a new edition of the book from Frederick Warne (£5.99 in hardback).

Ashton’s ballet adds another dimension to Potter’s animal tales. Whereas Potter’s drawings were just of the animals themselves seen sometimes in human dress, they still remain resolutely animals. Seen cavorting about the stage they adopt more human characteristics so that we are looking at people dressed as animals and pretending to be them. This isn’t to say that they are not entertaining for they are absolutely delightful but it is the adoption of human characteristics that make them so adorable. They are anthropomorphised for us, and we can in a way identify with them.

Tales of Beatrix Potter. ©Johan PerssonThe hedgehog Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, for example, is like a little old lady who comes in to do the cleaning, a born servant who has known no other life as she hangs out yet another batch of laundry. This part was originally Ashton’s and he wanted a little tune to waggle his hips to, which is just about what a washerwoman could manage to do. Jonathan Howells captures her beautifully.

Jemima Puddle-Duck (Gemma Sykes) is another lovely creation, a duck who is finding it difficult to hatch her eggs, until she comes across a seemingly friendly but wily Fox (Gary Avis). Her characteristic waddle is exactly how a real duck might move. Mr Jeremy Fisher (Zachary Faruque) is the froggiest frog you will ever see, not quite up to Toad Hall level but going that way. And poor Squirrel Nutkin (Steven McRae) gets to lose his lovely bushy tail in his adventure.

These and the other tales are told immaculately in dance and gesture through Ashton’s choreography and the current corps de ballet. There was whooping and cheering at the end of the performance, mostly from the parents in the audience who must feel nostalgic about these fictional albeit very real creatures from their own childhood. Note the great collective intake of breath when the eminently recognisable Peter Rabbit makes his entrance. I reckon it’s the adults who enjoy Tales of Beatrix Potter more than the children do! A perfect Christmas and New Year treat.

  • In repertory at the Royal Opera House until Tuesday 8 January 2008
  • Box office: 020 7304 4000
  • ROH Christmas

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