The Royal Ballet – Triple Bill [The Firebird … In The Night … Raymonda Act Three]

The Firebird – Fairy-tale ballet in two tableaux for orchestra choreographed by Mikhail Fokine

The Firebird – Itziar Mendizabal
Ivan Tsarevich – Bennet Gartside
The Beautiful Tsarevna – Tara Bhavnani
The Immortal Kostcheï – Gary Avis
The Enchanted Princesses – Christina Arestis, Claire Calvert, Olivia Cowley, Hayley Forskitt, Melissa Hamilton, Nathalie Harrison, Emma Maguire, Laura McCulloch, Kristen McNally, Pietra Mello-Pittman, Demelza Parish, Lara Turk
Indians, Kostcheï’s Wives, Youths, Kikimoras, The Bolibotchki, Monsters, Attendants, Pages, Cavaliers – Artists of The Royal Ballet, Students of The Royal Ballet School

Natalia Goncharova – Designs
Sergey Grigoriev & Lubov Tchernicheva – Original staging
Christopher Carr – Staging
Gary Avis – Ballet master
Samantha Raine – Ballet mistress
Principal coaching – Jonathan Cope, Monica Mason
Dance notator – Grant Coyle

In The Night

Dancers – Sarah Lamb, Federico Bonelli; Zenaida Yanowsky, Nehemiah Kish; Alina Cojocaru, Johan Kobborg

Robert Clark (piano)

Jerome Robins – Choreography
Fryderyk Chopin – Music [Nocturnes – C sharp minor, Op.27/1; F minor, Op.55/1; E flat, Op.55/2; E flat, Op.9/2]
Anthony Dowell – Costume designs
Jennifer Tipton – Lighting
Les Dickert – Lighting recreation
Christine Redpath – Staging
Christopher Saunders – Ballet master

Raymonda, Op.57 [Act Three] – Ballet in three acts, four scenes with an apotheosis, choreographed by Marius Petipa

Raymonda – Zanaida Yanowsky
Jean de Brienne – Nehemiah Kish
Hungarian Dance – Christina Arestis, Ryoichi Hirano, Artists of The Royal Ballet
Grand Pas – Yuhui Choe, Helen Crawford, Melissa Hamilton, Fumi Kaneko, Hikaru Kobayashi, Emma Maguire, Itziar Mendizabal, Yasmine Naghdi, Alexandra Campbell, Valeri Hristov, Kenta Kura, Brian Maloney, Johannes Stepanek, Dawid Trzensimiech, Eric Underwood, Valentino Zucchetti
Variation 1 – Hikaru Kobayashi
Variation 2 – Yuhui Choe
Variation 3 – Itziar Mendizabal
Pas de trois – Fumi Kaneko, Emma Maguire, Yasmine Nagdhi
Pas de quatre – Alexandra Campbell, Valeri Hristov, Kenta Kura, Dawid Trzensimiech
Variation 4 – Helen Crawford
Variation 5 – Nehemiah Kish
Variation 6 – Zenaida Yanowsky
Finale – Entire cast

Rudolf Nureyev – Production, and Choreograhy [after Marius Petipa]
Barry Kay – Designs
John B. Read – Lighting design
Christopher Carr – Staging
Gary Avis – Ballet master
Samantha Raine – Ballet mistress
Alexander Agadzhanov, Lesley Collier, Jonathan Cope – Principal coaching
Grant Coyle – Dance notator

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
Barry Wordsworth

Reviewed by: G. J. Dowler

Reviewed: 22 December, 2012
Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London

This is a highly successful Royal Ballet triple bill, one of the best constructed and best performed for some time, a felicitous combination of choreographers and music, and danced with belief and conviction. It is most certainly a feather in new Director Kevin O’Hare’s cap.

Mara Galeazzi & Edward Watson (The Firebird, The Royal Ballet, December 2012). Photograph: Tristram KentonThe Firebird is a lustrous jewel of the company’s repertoire, the best and most authentic extant version, with unchallengeable provenance: Sergey Grigoriev, the Ballets Russes former régisseur and his wife Lyobov Tchernichev set the work on the company in 1954. It is given in Natalia Goncharova’s glowing 1926 designs (not the original) and is here revived with both care and evident love. The company performs it beautifully, the Enchanted Princesses soft and graceful, Kostcheï’s multifarious attendants and grotesques spellbound automata and the lead roles fresh-minted. Tata Bhavnani’s delicate Beautiful Tsarevna, initially so enraptured by yet so afeared of the Tsarevich, Gary Avis’s deliciously evil yet twinklingly camp Kostcheï, his make-up and costume a delight of dance design, were both welcome. And fulsome praise for Bennett Gartside and Itziar Mendizabal as the Tsarevich and the Firebird, respectively. Gartside is a highly intelligent and sensitive artist who gives meaning and reason to everything his character does, from the first moment when he steals into the enchanted garden to that last, great gesture of the assumption of autocratic authority at his wedding apotheosis. His partnering of the Firebird in the extended first scene pas de deux was exemplary; his schoolboy glee at having caught such a magnificent animal and his growing wonder at her brilliance utterly loveable.

Itziar Mendizabal & Bennet Gartside (The Firebird, The Royal Ballet, December 2012). Photograph: Tristram KentonItziar Mendizabal assumes the title role with authority and undeniable brio – her eyes flash wildly, her delivery of her choreography is confident and suitably farouche, her command of the stage total. This is a notable assumption which marks her out already as one of the great Firebirds in the company’s history. She takes her place in the remarkable line from the role’s creator Tamara Karsavina who coached Margot Fonteyn in the part in 1954; she herself guided Monica Mason who has now passed on her knowledge to Mendizabal. She is a worthy successor. Barry Wordsworth directed an engaged ROH orchestra, wallowing in the splendid sonorities of Stravinsky’s first ballet score: the Princesses tripped gratifyingly rapidly through their dance, though the orchestral prelude before the rise of the curtain was indulgently slow. The final scene apotheosis was, however, stridently perfect and contributed much to the goose-bumps that were occasioned – a thrilling end to a superb performance.

Zenaida Yanowsky & Nehemiah Kish (In The Night, The Royal Ballet, December 2012). Photograph: Tristram KentonAs a palate-cleanser, Jerome Robbins’s small-scale and delicate In the Night, returning to the repertoire after some 27 years’ absence. It is a focussed, elegiac work comprising three couples whose pas de deux to four of Chopin’s Nocturnes explore the differing natures of love. It is a darker, melancholy successor-work to Robbins’s wildly successful Dances at a Gathering. The setting is star-spangled night-time, the costumes Anthony Dowell’s ballroom dresses and vaguely military tunics. Lamb and Bonelli (she in the palest of lilac, he in duck-egg blue) sweetly danced their duet of young love, a playful pas de deux of skittishness and impetuosity to the Nocturne Op.27/1.Federico Bonelli & Sarah Lamb (In The Night, The Royal Ballet, December 2012). Photograph: Tristram KentonYanowsky and Kish (copper and faun) were suitably grand in the Op.55/1, a confident duet of mirrored gestures and sophisticated movement, whereas Cojocaru and Kobborg (she in red, he in black) explored the vicissitudes of an evidently tempestuous relationship to the same opus’s No.2. The three couples take to the stage together for the final Nocturne, (Op.9/2) to meet, greet and bid farewell. It was beautifully performed if a wee bit polite and uptight. Robert Clark gave a focussed and theatrical performance of the Nocturnes, restoring much confidence in the standard of piano-playing at The Royal Ballet.

Nehemiah Kish & Zenaida Yanowsky (Raymonda Act Three, The Royal Ballet, December 2012). Photograph: Tristram KentonAnother precious jewel of repertoire to conclude: Rudolf Nureyev’s 1966 production of Raymonda Act III, a statement of intent if ever there was one, to send the Christmas audience off happily into the London rain. Nureyev is responsible in the large part for making Raymonda known in the West, and while the full-length version can, if truth be told, go on a bit, his selection of the ‘best bits’ for the Act III wedding festivities of Jean de Brienne and Raymonda is irresistible. Wordsworth and the orchestra exulted in Glazunov’s stunning composition, and Barry Kay’s evocation of Hungaro-Norman Byzantium, a symphony of white and gold still, after almost half a century, elicits excited applause from the audience as the curtain rises. It ranks as one of the most successful sets for dance in the repertoire.

Christina Arestis and Ryoichi Hirano (Raymonda Act Three, The Royal Ballet, December 2012). Photograph: Tristram KentonAnd then the dances – Nureyev knew and loved Raymonda from his early days in Russia, and one can still feel the excitement with which he brought his knowledge to Western audiences as well as his confidence both in the choreography and in his own abilities as its Producer. He succeeded then and succeeds now utterly; this is another loving revival by an unsung hero of The Royal Ballet, Guest Principal Ballet Master Christopher Carr, who fiercely guards the integrity of works he danced and clearly adores. The corps was well drilled, the Hungarian dancers suitably proud, Ryoichi Hirano haughtily leading Christina Arestis and the others in their character dance. Care too in the delivery of Petipa’s/Nureyev’s choreography in the Grand Pas. Yuhui Choe’s pin-point musicality in the second variation and Itziar Mendizabal’s languor in the third was admirable. A sweet pas de trois was, however, followed by an uneven male pas de trois, its famous double tours in canon not perfectly executed. Nehemiah Kish, while no virtuoso, gave an aristocratic and satisfying performance as Jean de Bienne, expertly showing his ballerina, the imperious Zenaida Yanowsky, to her best advantage. Yanowsky has the measure of the role, combining haughty grandeur with silky pliancy, her famous solo delivered with panache. This triple bill is a treat for ballet-goers, and a reminder of the unparalleled richness of The Royal Ballet’s repertoire.

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