As part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season, celebrating 70 years at the Royal Opera House, the Royal Ballet brings it season to a close with a tribute to its founder choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton.
The tribute comprised a marvellous triple bill featuring The Dream (1964), based on Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the non-narrative work Symphonic Variations (1946) to music by Franck (Ashton’s first work after World War 2), and then finally the 1963 passionate, tempestuous Marguerite and Armand (1963), based on La Dame Aux Camellias, created for the legendary partnership of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev to a Lizst sonata.
This particular performance also marks the retirement from the stage of principal Zenaida Yanowsky and at the end we see the extended curtain calls and appearances by several of her leading men who have partnered her over the years in various roles.
Opening the program was a delightful revival of The Dream. The forest clearing set was enchanting and beautifully lit, the Mendelssohn music gloriously played by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under the energetic baton of Emmanuel Plasson with the London Oratory Junior Choir giving a fine performance. The fairies were absolutely enchanting.
Steven McRae channelled his inner Sir Robert Helpmann and was proud and imperious as Oberon with incredible tight and precise technique, blistering chaine turns and long, stretched elegant arabesque penchees.
Feather light and vivacious, Akane Takada was sweetly pretty and dazzling as Titania, regal yet also with wonderful epaulement, fluttery and fluid.The splendid reconciliation pas de deux featured a reuniting of well matched equals .
Mischievous, bouncy Puck was joyously danced by Valentino Zucchetti with amazing ballon, and Bennet Gartside was an outstanding Bottom.
The four confused, mixed up human lovers, dressed in Victorian era costumes, were strongly danced by Itziar Mendizabal, Tomas Mock, Claire Calvert and Matthew Ball.
Created in 1946, the year the Royal Opera House reopened, the very demanding Symphonic Variations was given an eloquent, crystalline performance by the six dancers who are on stage the whole time.
This was a short but epic work demanding great precision and fluid dancing in unison, curled spools of movement with some explosive mini solos for the men, in particular.There were allusions to Balanchine’s Apollo yet with Ashton’s delicate touch. Special mention must be made of Vadim Muntagirov who dances very impressively, almost like a cool minor deity.
The ballet was set in an abstract realm with Sophie Federovitch’s curving black lines on a greeny-yellow background and the black and white costumes. It did, however, seems that the hairpieces worn by the men seemed a bit odd.
Marianela Nunez also shone with the nuanced sensitivity of her phrasing. Ashton’s choreography demanded long stretched arms , regal epaulement and some fast darting footwork. The work also featured a lyrical floating pas de deux. The piece concludedwith the cast breathlessly running off stage.
Kevin O’Hare described Yanowsky as one of the great actress/ballerinas of her generation, following on in the footsteps of ballerinas such as Fonteyn and Seymour.
Yanowksy gave a powerhouse performance playing Marguerite in Marguerite and Armand , following in the footsteps of Fonteyn and Guillem, with emotions ranging from radiant joy to noble resignation. (This season also saw Osipova and Ferri perform the role).
The chemistry between Yanowksy as Marguerite and darkly brooding guest star Roberto Bolle as Armand was remarkable. Bolle was tremendous as fiery yet elegant Armand,
Ashton’s tempestuous featured choreography full of strutting Nureyev arabesques, glorious leaps and turns.There were some very demanding lifts in the swooping swirling pas de deux.
As Armand’s father Christopher Saunders was imperious and coldly demanding but eventually sympathetic to the lover’s plight.
Running time – allow 3 & ½ hours including two intervals
The Royal Ballet’s presentation of the Ashton Triple Bill screens as part of the Palace Opera and Ballet season at selected cinemas between 7-12 July 2017.