The star turns of Alastair Marriott’s new work The Unknown Soldier are Es Devlin’s set and Bruno Poet’s lighting design, and if this had been an installation at Tate Modern, I would have been thrilled by the iridescent colours and the use of shadow. As a multi-media ballet at the Royal Opera House, it is less effective: at times the partially lowered curtain bathed in shimmering streams of rainbow light, or the large screen that descended from above, obscured the back of the stage; even from row C of the Amphitheatre sightlines seemed perilous. Marriott aspires to tell his story from a primarily female perspective, drawing on the recorded words of Florence Billington, who is shown in archive footage projected on the front curtain, and danced by Yasmine Naghdi. The other two named roles are for men; Matthew Ball as Ted Feltham (the soldier), and Leo Dixon as the Telegraph Boy, dressed in a kinky shiny uniform with see-through effect. (more…)

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Swan Lake remains at the heart of the classical ballet repertoire. Its choreography by Marius Petipa and music by Tchaikovsky have ensured its place in any dance company worth its claim to pre-eminence. And the music’s 19th century blend of the classical with the romantic has ensured audiences with a love of great music if only a passing interest in dance. Nevertheless, it has to be said that the growth of contemporary choreography and the increased number of smaller dance companies have rather reduced the appetites of both dancers and audiences for this extremely demanding, long, old, and often tired ballet. I include myself among those who have felt they had seen enough Swan Lakes to happily miss the next one. It is with this in mind that I say how suddenly I have been swept off my feet and made to believe again in the evergreen nature of the work, its music, its potential for surprise. (more…)

The Royal Ballet’s summer season has drawn to a close, but on Monday we had the chance to see the company’s Frederick Ashton programme, recorded on the night of Tamara Rojo’s farewell performance in February.

The programme opened with La Valse, to music described by its composer Ravel as “a kind of apotheosis of the Viennese waltz”.  Originally choreographed by Ashton’s mentor Bronislava Nijinska, to a score that Diaghilev believed inimical to ballet, the sombre, slightly menacing, lighting obscured the dance too much and this did not work well in a cinema. (more…)

The Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake, broadcast live from the Royal Opera House to the Phoenix Cinema, Oxford. 23 October 2012.

As Zenaida Yanowsky slowly unfolds her leg in a high développé devant, she seems to float for a moment before she rises and subsides, caught and supported by Nehemiah Kish as she falls backwards.   This is a very trusting partnership between Kish, an elegant dancer with beautiful line, and the lyrical Yanowsky.   Kish’s Siegfried is a sincere prince, who loves Odette, but has no chance against Yanowsky’s Odile:  her fouettés and virtuoso steps embody deceit, and she suffuses the most ordinary step, such as a posé turn, with cunning. (more…)

Romeo and Juliet (Royal Ballet), broadcast live to the Oxford Phoenix,
22 March 2012

The intensity and immediacy of this ballet makes it difficult to believe
that it is 47 years old.  On Thursday, Lauren Cuthbertson and Frederico
Bonelli danced with fierce sincerity; the moment that they first saw
each other, the audience knew that they were falling into the grip of an
inescapable but forbidden passion.  Cuthbertson’s growing revulsion at
Paris’ advances and her desperate appeals to her parents, were
heartbreaking, as were Bonelli’s pain at the death of Mercutio and his
excruciating anguish on killing Tybalt.

My one disappointment was in the dance at the beginning of the ballroom
scene, with which the Capulets convey so clearly and directly “This is
who we are, and we are together”, in a way that words cannot do, but
dance can.  It is hugely important, because the entire story turns on
the allegiances and enmity of warring clans, and this scene sets that
out unambiguously as part of the status quo.  Perhaps it was filmed with
too many close-ups, which disturbed the flow of the panorama, or perhaps
there was a slight lack of focus in the performance that diminished the
impact.  Otherwise, it was a totally compelling production.

There were particularly fine performances from a vicious Tybalt, a
mischievous Mercutio and an insolently engaging Whore, but alas the
cinema had no cast sheets, and I have been unable to find cast details
on the Royal Opera House website.  It was all the more irritating then that although
the cast were listed in the rolling credits at the end, far more
prominence was given to a repeating scroll of tweets at the foot of the
screen during the curtain calls.  However tweets have their uses:  it
was thanks to the fact that Alexander Campbell had already sent a tweet
that I was quick enough to spot that he had played Mercutio, as his name
rushed by.

Maggie Watson
25 March 2012