When Kevin O’Hare stepped in front of the curtain, I expected bad news, and it was:  Natalia Osipova had mild concussion following “a collision of heads” during the afternoon performance;  Thiago Soares was off too, and  so was Tetractys – the art of fugue.  Cue for groans from the audience, followed by a round of applause from some of the more expensive seats when we were promised a refund of a third of the ticket price, and told that the bars would stay open for longer than usual.  And so the triple bill became a double bill, of Rhapsody and Gloria.  Nevertheless, this was an opportunity for the Royal Ballet to showcase the work of two of the company’s most important directors and to demonstrate an understanding of two very different, yet very English, choreographic styles.

Frederick Ashton created Rhapsody in 1980 for Baryshnikov to perform with the Royal Ballet, and it brilliantly points up the differences between the English and Russian styles.  Ashton told Baryshnikov to “Bring all your steps” and created a virtuoso role, danced tonight by Valentino Zucchetti, which contrasts sharply with the rest of the work.  This is a very beautiful ballet, with the six couples that make up the corps de ballet set against Jessica Curtis’ backdrop of the sky, on a stage that is bare but for three steps.  Yuhui Choe, the other principal, rippled through the choreography like a ribbon of silk, her body lyrical, her feet striking sparks with a speed and fluidity that showed she understood the style.

Gloria, by Kenneth Macmillan, was a complete contrast: a pensive, sorrowful ensemble piece in which the principals cannot but sublimate themselves to the overall meaning, from the moment at the beginning when the bodies seem to rise out of the trench grave.

Sarah Lamb’s restrained, even cool, manner make her a wonderful channel for the emotion in this work, which flows through her like a current.  She forces nothing; she is like a lightening conductor able to absorb and pass on electrical charges.  Carlos Acosta and Ryoichi Hirano (replacing Thiago Soares) partnered her elegantly and carefully, taking her through a series of exquisitely balanced and expressive lifts.  It was a great pleasure that the music involved both the Royal Opera Chorus and also soprano Dušica Bijelic.

And so ended a fine performance on what must have been a very tough day for the company and staff of the Royal Opera House.

Maggie Watson

8 February 2014