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…)

These two performances of Sylvia, Ashton’s flawed but lovely ballet, felt like Christmas presents in beautifully presented parcels, each containing completely different interpretations of the leading roles. I saw Lauren Cuthbertson and Reece Clarke as Sylvia and Aminta on 2 December, followed by Natalia Osipova and Vadim Muntagirov on December 16. (more…)

A chance to see live transmission of  The Royal Ballet performing at the top of its game in a great production of a major work.  Giselle is the quintessential Romantic ballet.  It transformed the dance world when it was first performed in Paris in 1841 and remains at the centre of the classical repertory.  Although choreography and designs have undergone many changes over the years, the essence of Giselle remains the same, a love affair that begins in the real world and continues beyond the grave.  Sir Peter Wright’s production for The Royal Ballet is based on Marius Petipa’s classic version (after original choreography by Jules Perrot and Jean Coralli), which was first staged in St Petersburg in 1884.  The ballet’s title role offers one of the great challenges of the ballet repertory, as Giselle transforms from an innocent peasant girl, duped into love, to a forgiving spirit who saves her lover from death. For the ballerina this is a role of two contrasting halves: in Act I she must appear naïve and artless, her dancing alive with an earthy enthusiasm; in Act II she transforms into light and air, her dancing so ethereal as to seem weightless. In Wright’s production, the dual aspect of the ballet is perfectly achieved: the first act dramatized in rich, naturalistic detail and the second with a spectral, moonlit beauty.  Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov star as Giselle and Count Albrecht; designs are by John Macfarlane and the tuneful score is by Adolphe Adam.

Performance:  Wednesday 6th April 7.15pm

Venue:  Phoenix Picturehouse, 57 Walton Street, Oxford  OX2 6AE

Tickets from £8-£20

Book online here or call 0871 902 5736

Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet had casting problems right from the start, when Lynn Seymour and Christopher Gable famously gave way to Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev. On Saturday, the cast change was due to injury, and Natalia Osipova was replaced by Sarah Lamb, partnered by Vadim Muntagirov. Lamb and Osipova seem to me to be at opposite poles, the one being a warm, passionate risk-taker, the other cool, restrained and exquisitely accurate. It cannot be easy to perform knowing that the majority of the audience originally booked to see another very different dancer. (more…)

English National Ballet’s Le Corsaire is not to be missed when it comes to Oxford next week:  the company is dancing on dazzling form.

The work itself raises challenging questions about nineteenth century revivals and changing ethical perspectives.  People trafficking and piracy are at the heart of the story, and as Conrad and Medora escape, their companions drown in a storm at sea, in a way terribly reminiscent of recent events off Lampedusa.  The women are chattels to be bartered, pirates are romanticized and the Pasha is a stereotypical figure of fun.  The production doesn’t so much negotiate this minefield as skim the surface without pausing for long enough to make the audience uneasy, which is perhaps surprising, given the dark tone of the pre-production publicity photographs. (more…)