London: Welcome Triple Bill at The Royal Ballet – Uneven Trio at Rambert

Before the Christmas onslaught of Nutcrackers, the Royal Ballet slipped in a mixed bill comprising a welcome revival of Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows premiered last year, and two older works; MacMillan’s Gloria and Ashton’s Enigma Variations.

Scarlett has proved himself beyond doubt the frontrunner of new choreographic talents to emerge from the Royal Ballet ranks. Asphodel Meadows is an abstract work with hints of something deeper hence the title references to the Greek afterlife for indifferent souls.

Scarlett, particularly in his use of arms has found shapes outside of the classical norms while still retaining the aesthetic beauty and John MacFarlane’s designs of shifting panels add to the restless nature, constantly varying the patterns of light and shadow. Sarah Lamb brought a quiet dignity to her role and was well partnered by Johannes Stepanek while José Martín and Leanne Cope made an interesting pairing in the forceful and dynamic second duet. The choreography for the ensemble of seven couples is demanding and the Royal Ballet has an interesting crop of young talent who rose to the challenges offering excellent support.
Christina Arestis och Christopher Saunders i Enigma Variations. Fotograf Bill Cooper ROH

Christina Arestis och Christopher Saunders i Enigma Variations. Fotograf Bill Cooper ROH

Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations set to Edward Elgar’s evocative music epitomises the Edwardian era. This is a ballet in the genre of costume drama, an English forte. One can almost see it as the dance counterpart of the current television hit, Downton Abbey. The cast effectively interpreted the myriad of characters with Christina Arestis, a particularly gracious Lady and Ricardo Cervera successfully knitting his feet round the high speed eccentric solo as Arthur Troyte Griffith.

MacMillan’s Gloria continued the timeline taking us into the senseless horrors of the First World War. Set to Poulenc’s Gloria in C, it is a master work where choreographic intention brought to fruition through sensitive interpretations creates a ballet of terrible beauty.

The exquisite wraith-like forms of the women; the poetic muse, contrast with the men; soldiers their costumes ripped like torn and bloodied flesh and distinctive flat helmets. Andy Klunder’s designs are integral to the success of the work. They are perfectly pitched between extreme delicacy – the detail of silvery braided medieval style cloche on the women and the harsh reality of reddish slashes of scabbed blood and mud on the men. Leanne Benjamin and Edward Watson have made the roles their own and were nothing short of magnificent while Nehemiah Kish gave a commanding performance, the best I have seen him give since his recent arrival.

Hikaru Kobayashi in Sleaping Beauty. Photographer Johan Persson

Hikaru Kobayashi in Sleaping Beauty. Photographer Johan Persson

Not a Good Idea
The Royal Ballet also managed to squeeze in a few Sleeping Beauties which was probably not a good idea. It is a demanding work even for a large company and the show I saw was plagued by a number of cast changes due to injuries and sickness and uneven performance levels. Hikaru Kobayashi was a radiant Aurora looking genuinely pleased at the prospect of marriage. Blessed with a serene arabesque and secure balance, she made light of the Rose Adage before dancing a delicate, musically exact solo. Her vision scene was by comparison, a little prosaic and the Grande Pas with Nehemiah Kish was pleasantly competent rather than thrilling.

The brightest of the fairies were Beatriz Stix-Brunell and Emma Maguire who went on to make a perfectly matched pair of sisters to Valeri Hristov’s virile Florestan in the final act. A sad disappointment was Andrej Uzpenski’s earthbound Bluebird; a promising start that lacked staying power. Even the delicious Melissa Hamilton as the Princess Florine couldn’t save the day and it was left to the witty duo of cats, Alexander Campbell and Elsa Godard, and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, a sparky Leanne Cope and Johannes Stepanek, to add lustre to the wedding party.

Javier de Frutos' Elysean Fields. Photographer Gavin Edwards

Javier de Frutos' Elysean Fields. Photographer Gavin Edwards

Rambert Dance Company at Sadler's Wells
The  company presented a rather uneven triple bill at Sadler’s Wells Theatre. The Merce Cunningham classic, RainForest, of 1968 confirms the genius of the collaborative team, Cunningham, Andy Warhol and David Tudor, while encapsulating the creative daring and sense of fun of that rebellious period.

The dancers engage with Warhol’s capricious silver cushions before the latter ascend skyward to mirror the shiny blue stage surface. The movement, so emphatically nonorganic, is defiantly at odds with the body’s natural rhythm, and Tudor’s music forms a river of sound complementing the shifting boundaries of this fluid work. It remains remarkable viewing.

Seven for a secret never to be told. Photographer Hugo Glendinning

Seven for a secret never to be told. Photographer Hugo Glendinning

Company director, Mark Baldwin’s new work takes its title from a line in children’s verse, Seven for a secret never to be told.

The music by Stephen McNeff is, in his words, a fantasy on Maurice Ravel’s opera, L’enfant et les sortilege.

Despite all this inspiration the choreography never leaves the sunny uplands of childhood play; never exploring the darker and more dangerous fantasies; the hopes, dream and wild imagination that are also the stuff of childhood.

The company gambolled through it with pleasurable ease but found little to engage their talents.

Elysean Fields. Photographer Gavin Edwards

Elysean Fields. Photographer Gavin Edwards

Javier de Frutos’ Elysian Fields echoes Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire. Christopher Austin has rearranged Alex North’s music from the film and the dancers speak lines of the text with great conviction and an admirably Southern twang.

It showed De Frutos at his choreographic best, shaping the work to highlight the dramatic tension, alternating passionate, violent movement with potent stillness.

The dancers responded splendidly, particularly Angela Towler and Pieter Symonds enacting fractured aspects of Blanche DuBois and Jonathan Goddard’s Stanley Kowalski.

I long for someone to give these dancers the full length dramatic work their talents demand but, in this instance, De Frutos mired the drama in fiercely misogynous themes of brutish men and their women victims; powerful interpretations but frustratingly limited.

Maggie Foyer
Dec 21, 2011
Jag ville bara dansa
Dans i Nord

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