The Royal Ballet – Triple Bill [Serenade … Sweet Violets … DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse]

Serenade – ballet by George Balanchine
Sweet Violets – ballet by Liam Scarlett
DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse – ballet by Christopher Wheeldon

Dancers – Sarah Lamb, Natalia Osipova, Olivia Cowley, Valeri Hristov, Eric Underwood, Claire Calvert, Helen Crawford, Hikaru Kobayashi, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Hayley Forskitt, Elsa Godrad, Isabella Gasparini, Annette Buvoli, Francesca Hayward, Tierney Heap, Kristen Mcnally, Yasmine Naghdi, Romany Pajdak, Pietra Mello-Pitman, Leticia Stock, Lara Turk, David Donnelly, Kevin Emerton, Fernando Montano, Erico Montes

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – Music [Serenade for Strings in C, Op.48]
Barbara Karinska – Costume design
John B. Read – Lighting Design

Sweet Violets
Walter Sickert – Bennet GartsideEmily Dimmock – Romany PajdakRobert Wood – Ryoichi HiranoEddy – Ricardo CerveraMary-Jane Kelly – Laura MoreraAnnie E. Crook – Leanne CopeLord Salisbury – Thomas WhiteheadMarie – Marianela NuñezLittle Dot – Yuhui ChoeJack – Alexander CampbellFive Dancing Girls – Jacqueline Clark, Elsa Godard, Francesca Hayward, Pietra Mello-Pitman, Leticia StockFive Men – Tristan Dyer, Sander Blommaert, Benjamin Ella, Kevin Emerton, Nicol Edmonds

Vasko Vassilev (violin), Christopher Vandespar (cello), Robert Clark (piano)

Sergei Rachmaninov – Music [Trio élégiaque No.2, Op.9]
John Macfarlane – Designs
David Finn – Lighting design

DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse
Dancers – Tierney Heap, Akane Takada, Melissa Hamilton, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Ryoichi Hirano, Tristan Dyer, Matthew Golding, Valentino Zucchetti, Artists of The Royal Ballet

Michael Nyman – Music [MGV: Musique à Grande Vitesse]
Jean-Marc Puissant – Designs
Jennifer Tipton – Lighting
Christopher Saunders – Staging
Christopher Saunders – Ballet master
Anna Trevien – Notator

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Pavel Sorokin

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 17 May, 2014
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

Marianela Nuñez and Artists of The Royal Ballet in Serenade, The Royal Ballet © ROH / Tristram Kenton 2014George Balanchine’s Serenade stands as one of the great abstract ballets of all time, his blueprint on arriving in the United States for what was to become the ‘American’ style of Classical Dance. Now celebrating its 80th-birthday, this extraordinary work retains a freshness of invention which ravishes the eye and remains a perfect evocation of Tchaikovsky’s much-loved composition. That said, The Royal Ballet has its own way of performing it that is not to everyone’s tastes, and alarm bells began to ring as conductor Pavel Sorokin started off at a dirge-like pace. Whatever happened, matters looked up pretty quickly thereafter, not least with the explosion of energy that was Natalia Osipova, determined to set off at a lick and seemingly carrying the rest of the cast and her conductor with her. Matters then settled down into a very satisfying performance which, even if a little rough around the edges and lacking the perfect placing of the dancers, brimmed with energy and, for the first three movements at least, a joyful energy at that. Sarah Lamb danced serenely without the last ounce of zip, so it was down to Osipova and the impressive Olivia Cowley to liven things up. Cowley is a rising Soloist who catches the eye with her natural musicality and spontaneous feel for the choreography, and it was good to see her more than hold her own alongside such impressive Principals. Valeri Hristov’s cool-as-a-cucumber partnering of Lamb in the third movement impressed. The fourth movement assumed the requisite deepening, even darkening of mood, and ended with peaceful resolution. An impressive performance after initial worries.

Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Emily Dimmock and Thomas Whitehead as Robert Wood in Sweet Violets, The Royal Ballet © ROH / Bill Cooper 2012Sweet Violets remains a problem piece and it is somewhat surprising to see it revived after a decidedly lukewarm reception when new in 2012. An evocation of the Camden Town murders and the artist Walter Sickert, choreographer Liam Scarlett is bogged down by his the narrative which sees numerous characters come and go in a confused narrative. As I observed when it was premiered (see link below), the confusion is nothing that a good dramaturg could not have sorted out, because much of what Scarlett does is choreographically impressive, not least in some fine solos and tortured pas de deux. Here he is most definitely in Kenneth MacMillan territory, with the murders of prostitutes, and he responds to his subject matter with movement of distinctive quality. Unfortunately, Rachmaninoff’s Trio élégiaque is 50 minutes long and no-one had or has the courage to cut it; this leads to extraneous scenes which cloud the narrative waters and weaken the dramatic structure. The cast could not be faulted, however, with Laura Morera searing as Mary-Jane Kelly, Leanne Cope as Annie E. Crook terrifying in her mad scene and Bennet Gartside a suitably tortured Sickert.

Sarah Lamb and Federico Bonelli in DGV © ROH / Bill Cooper 2011DGV: Danse à Grande Vitesse returns to Covent Garden and is, frankly, beginning to look a little dated – Jean-Marc Puissant’s fussily-bodiced costumes and his metal structure at the back is now far form a dernier cri of design. Michael Nyman’s MGV: Musique à Grande Vitesse, composed for the inauguration of the TGV-North line, trundles along in its own way, without being in the least bit distinguishable from many of his other works – it is entertaining enough if you like that sort of thing, but does not make for an ideally varied ballet score. We are now far from the original cast of 2006, and new dancers tackle Christopher Wheeldon’s fussy choreography, often to somewhat clunky effect. Matters were not helped by an ‘off’ afternoon in the pit, where the rhythmic pulse was sometimes lost, but what emerged is tricksy movement with a great deal of semaphoring of arms and hands and some very awkward-looking partnering and lifts; there is rarely a movement or pose of either beauty or simplicity, virtues eschewed in favour of the complicated and the uncomfortable. Valentino Zucchetti emerged as the most comfortable of the eight main dancers with the choreography and brought his customary vim to the performance, but elsewhere the joins were all too visible and effort required to execute Wheeldon’s moves all too apparent.

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