It was a great treat to see four Frederick Ashton ballets (Scènes de ballet / Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan / Symphonic Variations / A Month in the Country) in one programme earlier this week at Covent Garden, and despite some imperfections of performance the sheer quality of choreography carried the evening.

The opening piece, Scènes de ballet, was a disappointment not so much because there were mistakes and some of the cast were clearly not on form, but because evidence of the company’s understanding of Ashton’s style appeared only intermittently. The choreography of this ballet is so subtle, so original and so exquisitely balanced that it cannot fail to delight, but it should have been better danced. Sarah Lamb caught the fluid bending of the upper body in her solo variation, but not consistently throughout, and the cast generally seemed to find it difficult to achieve precision without rigidity.

In Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan Helen Crawford (replacing Lauren Cuthbertson) gave a fine performance. The dances recreate the impression that Duncan made on Ashton, and are much more interesting to watch that some of the recreations of Duncan’s actual dances available on YouTube. Crawford conveyed the feeling of Duncan’s power, abandon and capacity for stillness very well.

Symphonic Variations demands a feeling of close empathy both between each couple and between all the dancers. Yuhui Choe came closest to this, using her lovely épaulement to express the subtle feeling of connection with the other dancers. There was the second substitution of the evening in this ballet, Reece Clarke replacing Matthew Golding as Marianela Nuñez’ partner, and the two did not yet seem completely at ease as a couple. Nevertheless, for me this extraordinarily beautiful ballet was the highlight of the programme.

In A Month in the Country, Natalia Osipova, as Natalia Petrovna, led a strong cast. In the pas de deux with Beliaev (Frederico Bonelli) she seemed engulfed by desire, almost dissolving in his arms. Francesca Hayward’s Vera was a perfect foil to her, marking the contrast between a young girl’s naïve romantic dreams and a mature woman’s uncontained longing. In some ways the most accessible ballet of the evening because it tells a story, this was a compelling performance from the entire cast: I really believed in James Hay’s Kolia as he ran across the furniture in his shoes after his kite and in Tara Brigitte Bhavnani’s Katia as she flirted with Beliaev.

Mention must also be made of the two exceptional solo pianists: Kate Shipway for Five Brahms Waltzes and A Month in the Country; Paul Stobart for Symphonic Variations.

There is still just time to catch this gorgeous programme, on 11 and 12 November:

Maggie Watson

8 November 2014