The Royal Ballet – Triple Bill [Asphodel Meadows … Enigma Variations … Gloria]

Asphodel Meadows

Principal Dancers – Sarah Lamb, Leanne Cope, Yuhui Choe, Johannes Stepanek, José Martin, Steven McRae
First Soloists – Meaghan Grace Hinkis, Iohna Loots, Emma Maguire, Yasmine Naghdi, Romany Pajdak, Samantha Raine, Leticia Stock
Soloists – Tristan Dyre, Kevin Emerton, James Hay, Ryoichi Hirano, Paul Kay, Kenta Kura, Dawid Trzensimiech

Liam Scarlett – Choreography
Francis Poulenc – Music [Concerto for two pianos in D minor]
John MacFarlane – Design
Jennifer Tipton – Lighting
Gary Avis – Ballet master
Amanda Eyles – Dance notator

Engima Variations

Edward Elgar (E.D.U.) – Christopher Saunders
The Lady (C.A.E.) – Christina Arestis
Huw David Steuart-Powell (H.D.S.-P) – Jonathan Howells
Richard Baxter Townshend (R.B.T.) – James Wilkie
William Meath Baker (W.M.B.) – Thomas Whitehead
Richard P. Arnold (R.P.A.) – David Pickering
Isabel Fitton (Ysobel) – Claire Calvert
Arthur Troyte Griffith (Troyte) – Ricardo Cervera
Winifred Norbury (W.N.) – Francesca Filpi
A.J. Jaeger (Nimrod) – Bennet Gartside
Dora Penny (Dorabella) – Iohna Loots
George Robinson Sinclair (G.R.S.) – Alexander Campbell
Basil G. Nevinson (B.G.N.) – Alastair Marriott
Lady Mary Lygon (***) – Laura McCulloch
Edward Elgar (E.D.U.) – Christopher Saunders

Schoolgirl – Leanne Cope
Country Girl and Boy – Romany Pajdak, Tristan Dyer
Sailor Girl and Boy – Sabina Westcombe, James Hay
Housekeeper – Jacqueline Clark
Gardener – Erico Montes
The Carrier – Kevin Emerton
Country Woman – Hayley Forskitt
Telegraph Boy – Valentino Zucchetti

Sir Frederick Ashton – Choreography
Sir Edward Elgar – Music [Variations on an Original Theme for orchestra (Enigma), Op.36]
Julia Trevelyan Oman – Designs
John B. Read – Lighting design
Christopher Carr – Staging
Grant Coyle, Anna Trevien – Dance notators


Dancers – Edward Watson, Leanne Benjamin, Nehemiah Kish, Emma Maguire, Alexander Campbell, Liam Scarlett, Dawid Trzensimiech, Christina Arestis, Melissa Hamilton, Laura McCulloch, Sian Murphy

Artists of The Royal Ballet

Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Francis Poulenc – Music [Gloria]
Andy Klunder – Designs
John B. Read – Lighting design
Dame Monica Mason, Christopher Saunders – Staging
Christopher Saunders – Ballet master
Diana Curry – Dance notator

Robert Clark & Kate Shipway (pianos)

Anna Devin (soprano)

Royal Opera Chorus

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Barry Wordsworth

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 19 November, 2011
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Christina Arestis as Lady Mary Lygon (Enigma Variations, The Royal Ballet). Photograph: Dee ConwayThis is one of the most enjoyable and consistently well danced triple bills from The Royal Ballet for some time, even if the juxtaposition of the three works does not make much musical sense – two wedges of Poulenc with a generous slice of Elgar in the middle. At least all three were well played (on this occasion) by a thankfully energised-sounding ROH orchestra; Barry Wordsworth marshalled his forces with aplomb, and even if the openings of both Enigma Variations and Gloria were a little too slow for my liking, matters picked up nicely thereafter, with a rich, burnished sound for the Elgar and a welcome boldness in both Poulencs. Robert Clark and Kate Shipway were excellent soloists in the Double Piano Concerto and both a robust Opera House Chorus and the impressive soprano soloist Anna Devin made telling contributions in Gloria.

Asphodel Meadows, The Royal Ballet. Photograph: Johan PerssonMusic, indeed, contributes so much to a dance work, so it was a judicious choice by Liam Scarlett, The Royal Ballet’s great white hope for the future in his first big stage work Asphodel Meadows, premiered three years ago. Scarlett has that rare quality among aspirant choreographers – musicality. He reacts intelligently to the Poulenc, and shows evidence of doing more, of entering into the music and using his steps as an intelligent counterpoint. First night was in fact first afternoon, and delivered by second casts in all three ballets; as a test of the strength of the company, it was revealing. In Scarlett’s piece the corps de ballet of fourteen displayed the cream of the company’s rising talent, especially the men – certainly James Hay, Tristan Dyer, Kevin Emerton and Dawid Trzensimiech all catch the eye as well as the more experienced fine soloist Paul Kay. Scarlett uses the fourteen with considerable intelligence, revealing a keen eye for blocking movement on the stage and using Poulenc’s stop-start style in this concerto to excellent effect by highlighting individuals and pairs who often mirror and sometimes dance ‘against’ the lead couple. Each movement has a lead pair, brilliantly and flatteringly costumed (as all are) by John Macfarlane in port wine, charcoal and chocolate brown versions of the same costumes. The six soloists were a mish-mash of ranks, from Sarah Lamb’s cool presence and Steven McRae’s insouciance as Principals to Leanne Cope, a First Artist who made much of Tamara Rojo’s role in the central movement. Scarlett’s idiom is his own, clearly a descendant of Kenneth MacMillan in his use of quirky patterning, but adding his own ports de bras, and a demanding yet somehow never quite over-athletic pas-de-deux style. This was an accomplished performance, enhanced greatly by some virtuoso lighting by Jennifer Tipton.

Bennet Gartside as William Meath Baker (Enigma Variations, The Royal Ballet). Photograph: Dee ConwayFrederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations suffered somewhat from being placed in the middle of the programme. It did not have the effect that it can have, and this was not fault of the dancers. Dismissed by some as old-fashioned when first created in 1968, it still divides opinion between those who find it too sugary with not enough dancing and those who find its delicacy, its wistful quality and its exploration of friendship and loyalty irresistible. Praise to Christopher Saunders’s Elgar, a tricky role to pull off as he seems to spend a lot of time wandering around the stage looking mournful. This Saunders does to a T, but he also brings many moods and thoughts into his portrayal. Christina Arestis was incredibly moving as Elgar’s wife (‘The Lady’) whose clear devotion to her husband and her support in his travails brought a lump to the throat. Elsewhere the vignettes which comprise this work were done with varying degrees of success, the most impressive being Ricardo Cervera’s pinpoint-accurate and explosive Troyte, Alexander Campbell’s ebullient Sinclair and Francesca Filpi’s luscious Winifred Norbury. The sets and costumes by the late Julia Trevelyan Oman still ravish the eye.

Carlos Acosta in Gloria (The Royal Ballet). Photograph: Dee ConwayMacMillan’s Gloria was given a superlative performance by the central trio of soloists with the company strongly in attendance. Leanne Benjamin continues to be nothing short of miraculous in her understanding of MacMillan’s style and she brought both delicacy and depth to the central ‘angelic’ figure. Is she (and the other women) a memory of better times (the ballet was inspired by Vera Brittain’s First World War creation Testament for Youth) or are they hers? Either way the ballet is suffused with the despair at war, the anguish, the sense of loss and bereavement, with stoicism and with redemption. Nehemiah Kish has not done anything better in London than his performance in Gloria – strong (an excellent partner) and detached in exactly the right way, but it was Edward Watson in the ‘lead’ role, one of the choreographer’s ‘outsider’ or ‘loner’ parts who was the most searing, his extraordinary flexibility allowing his Egon Schiele body to contort into the most agonised of shapes and poses. Additionally, Watson conveyed most strongly the anguish of the ‘little man’ faced with the horrors of total war – his final leap into the abyss (off Andy Klunder’s devastatingly simple yet powerfully successful set) was inevitable, the final act of one man left alone in the world, his comrades and loved-ones having returned into the earth from whence they emerged at the call of those powerful opening chords. This ballet is a masterpiece, given superlative performance in this present revival.

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