The Royal Ballet – Triple Bill [Scènes de ballet … Voluntaries … The Rite of Spring]

Scènes de ballet – ballet in one act

Lauren Cuthbertson, Sergei Polunin / Sarah Lamb, Valeri Hristov

Ryoichi Hirano, Dawid Trzensimiech, Andrej Uspenski, Jonathan Watkins / Ricardo Cervera, Bennet Gartside, Ryoichi Hirano, Johannes Stepanek

Frederick Ashton – Choreography
André Beaurepaire – Designs
John B. Read – Lighting design
Christopher Carr – Staging
Gary Avis – Ballet master
Ursula Hageli – Ballet mistress
Christopher Carr & Lesley Collier – Principal coaching

Voluntaries – ballet to choreography by Glen Tetley

Leanne Benjamin, Nehemiah Kish, Sarah Lamb, Ryoichi Hirano, Valeri Hristov / Marianela Nuñez, Rupert Pennefather, Lauren Cuthbertson, Ryoichi Hristov, Sergei Polunin

Helen Crawford, Melissa Hamilton, Emma Maguire, Yasmine Naghdi, Sian Murphy, Samantha Raine, Sander Blommaert, Fernando Montaño, Johannes Stepanek, Dawid Trzensimiech, Kevin Emerton, Andrej Uspenski

Thomas Trotter (organ)

Francis Poulenc – Music
Rouben Ter-Arutunian – Designs
John B. Read – Lighting designs
Bronwen Curry – Staging
Ursula Hageli – Ballet mistress
Bronwen Curry & Lesley Collier – Principal coaching

The Rite of Spring – ballet in two parts

The Chosen One – Steven McRea / Edward Watson

The Men – James Butcher, Kevin Emerton, Thomas Mock, Fernando Montaño, Bennet Gartside, David Pickering, Dawid Trzensimiech, Andrej Uspenski, Jonathan Watkins, Thomas Whitehead

The Women – Christina Arestis, Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Claire Calvert, Demelza Parish, Celisa Diuana, Francesca Filpi, Melissa Hamilton, Nathalie Harrison, Laura McCulloch, Kristen McNally, Sian Murphy, Lara Turk

The Adolescents – Camille Bracher, Leanne Cope, Gemma Pitchley-Gale, Elsa Godard, Iohna Loots, Emma Maguire, Yasmine Nagdhi, Akane Takada, Fumi Kaneko, Samantha Raine, Leticia Stock, Sabina Westcombe, Sander Blommaert, James Hay, Jonathan Howells, Paul Kay, Ludovic Ondiviela, Liam Scarlett, James Wilkie, Valentino Zucchetti

The Elders – Douwe Dekkers, Thomas Kendall, Samuel Price

Kenneth MacMillan – Choreography
Sidney Nolan – Designs
John B Read – Lighting design
Monica Mason & Christopher Saunders – Staging
Christopher Saunders – Ballet master
Monica Mason – Principal coaching

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Barry Wordsworth

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 28 May, 2011
Venue: The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

This new triple-bill from The Royal Ballet has been long awaited – the last of the present season and, on paper at least, the most attractive, certainly to those who believe that the company’s back-catalogue of works represents the core upon which its greatness is built.

Scènes de ballet, The Royal Ballet. Photograph: Dee ConwayFrederick Ashton’s 1948 Scènes de ballet was the choreographer’s favourite of his own works – a homage to the father of classical dance Marius Petipa, infused with the chic aspect of the post-war ‘New Look’ (André Beaurepaire’s costumes and colour palette are adorable), and inspired by the geometrical drawings of Euclid. It is a difficult work to bring off, the lead ballerina (created by Margot Fonteyn) needing to be as sophisticated and elegant as a Parisian grande dame, the male lead (Michael Somes’s part) taxed by multiple double tours en l’air and the demanding precision of movement. The style is quirky, spiky, utterly Ashtonian, and ineffably elegant. In this revival (I saw both casts in one day), the corps de ballet of twelve women looked at times a little under-rehearsed, a common musicality eluding them, a oneness-of-style only intermittent. However, the four demi-soloist men were well matched in each cast, the evening combination of Ricardo Cervera, Bennet Gartside, Ryoichi Hirano and Johannes Stepanek just a neck ahead of the matinée foursome (Hirano, Dawid Trzensimiech, Andrej Uspenski and Jonathan Watkins) in terms of cohesion, but all eyes are naturally on the lead couple. Lauren Cuthbertson and Sergei Polunin were well-matched: she alive to the nuances of Stravinsky’s composition, voluptuous in épaulement and bends, precise in placement; he characteristically generous in movement, leaps pantherine, bearing aristocratic. For the evening: Sarah Lamb seemed significantly less comfortable in the idiom, seemingly unsure about the need or indeed the meaning of Ashton’s careful use of wrists and hands, hesitant in the interplay of music and steps; Valeri Hristov made a very favourable impression as a stand-in for the injured Federico Bonelli, and executed his steps with aplomb. The Orchestra under Barry Wordsworth played quite splendidly, with clear attention to detail.

Voluntaries, The Royal Ballet. Photograph: Bill CooperGlen Tetley’s Voluntaries is not a particularly likable work – its gesturing and posturing empty, vacuous, its partnering unnecessarily gymnastic, and, and times, verging on the gynaecological. That said, the present revival is of quality, from the superb orchestral and solo playing of Poulenc’s Organ Concerto to impassioned performances from nearly all the dancers. The evening’s cast of Marianela Nuñez, Rupert Pennefather, Lauren Cuthbertson, Hristov and Polunin was nothing less than superb, all five delivering performances of note – Pennefather partnered quite wonderfully, establishing a close rapport with Nuñez, attendant to her every move; Cuthbertson, Ryoichi Hristov and Sergei Polunin sailed breezily through their airborne choreography. The afternoon’s cast was led by the wondrous Leanne Benjamin who understands naturally this style of neo-classical movement – she remains a lustrous jewel of the company. Alas, her partner was the bland, blank, earthbound Nehemiah Kish, a recent acquisition as Principal who is yet to make a mark – a veil must be drawn over his performance. Sarah Lamb made little of what Cuthbertson made so much – she dances as if distanced from her audience and thereby makes little impression.

Steven McRea as The Chosen One (The Rite of Spring, The Royal Ballet). Photograph: Johan PerssonKenneth MacMillan’s The Rite of Spring is a masterpiece, as fresh, shocking and innovative as when it premiered almost fifty years ago. Sidney Nolan’s notable ‘aboriginal’ designs startle, Stravinsky’s music unsettles (the orchestra was in more primitively abrasive form in the evening performance) and MacMillan’s movements disturb. It remains one of the most successful realisations of this monumental score.

In 1987 MacMillan tried out a new concept – the role of The Chosen One, created on the present company director Monica Mason, was given to a man for the first time: Simon Rice, an intensely theatrical soloist. Steven McRae and Edward Watson are two of the present company’s finest actor-dancers, and Mason has revived the ‘experiment’ (only a little tweaking of the steps was needed). Whilst it is not necessarily better with a male lead, it is clear the work can support either interpretation – it no longer becomes the sacrifice of a virgin, a potential earth mother, and instead that of a hunter-gatherer. Watson was preferable to McRae, but both are of note – McRae is very much the adolescent singled out to provide the blood sacrifice for the tribe, Watson more an outsider picked to be dispensed with by the mass of fellow tribesmen and women who never move individually but always as one (the massed ranks of the company in superlative form). Watson’s terror, his wide-eyed panic, the flailing of his impossibly long limbs all contribute to an interpretation of the highest quality. McRae will develop further, to be sure – he is an artist of rare intelligence and quality.

This is a programme of which the company can be proud – three excellent revivals, blessed with excellent orchestral playing.

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