Review: Royal Ballet in ‘Apollo/ Children of Adam/ Theme and Variations’ at Royal Opera House

Performance: 5 Mar 07
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Tuesday 6 March 2007

In rep until 24 March

There’s a passion for everything vintage these days and Alastair Marriott’s Children of Adam rolls back the years to the ’60s and ’70s when Kenneth McMillan changed the face of the Royal Opera House by churning out gutsy, reality ballets. This opening night was dance’s equivalent of Life on Mars: the TV series where a detective is knocked down by a car and mysteriously transported back to 1973. Here we had the tribal earthiness and flexed, grotesque posing of *The Rite of Spring*; the capricious outsider who was always an integral part of MacMillan’s expressionism; and the passionate, daring physicality of the pas de deux, pre-empting Mayerling which follows next in this season. We didn’t need the impact of a car to be transported back to 1973. Even some of the vintage dresses in the audience fitted the era perfectly.

It’s a brave thing for a young choreographer – with only two main stage works in the bag – to create a narrative ballet that has to sit between two modern classics by the great Balanchine. Marriott has raided the formative influences of his early life as a student and young dancer when the later MacMillan repertoire (Winter Dreams, Prince of the Pagodas, The Judas Tree) dominated the company’s agenda and he has created something that fits excellently into that genre.

As with MacMillan, Marriott challenges his dancers to achieve extraordinary movement and his choice of first-cast lead woman is hardly surprising. It was MacMillan that brought Leanne Benjamin to the Royal Ballet in 1992 but he died before they could work together. Now she’s the company’s senior Principal (although still remarkably youthful) and at the very peak of her performance potential. The opening sequence of *Children of Adam* requires a deep sensitivity (which motherhood has enhanced in Leanne’s performance skills), lightning footwork and the most flexible range of movement imaginable. Her partner – as the older brother – was the usually unsung soloist, Johannes Stepanek (here substituting for the injured Rupert Pennefather) and he stepped up to the challenge, matching Benjamin in the feral outburst of their duet. As the wayward younger brother, rising star Steven McRae adds another gem to his growing list of achievements. McRae captured the emotional intensity of this disturbed young man, whilst delivering moments of great virtuosity in his dancing: his physical appearance was greatly changed and, for those of you old enough to remember, he was the spitting image of actor, Russ Tamblyn (Riff, the leader of the Jets, in West Side Story).

I expect that some critics will reject Marriott’s new work for being too derivative but I applaud him for reminding us that this rich seam of great, expressionist British ballet has the potential to be reignited.

The Royal Ballet brought out its starriest casts for the two Balanchines: Carlos Acosta was an expressive Apollo with Bussell, Nuñez (who seems to get stronger every time she dances) and Galeazzi as his muses; and the dream partnership of Kobborg (dancing for the first time after a long absence through injury) and Cojocaru led the dancers in *Theme and Variations,* _ a luscious first performance by the Royal Ballet of Balanchine’s layered exposition of classicism. Both ballets were performed with exceptional style and if _Children of Adam was about rekindling a British creative flame then these works showed off the international credentials of the company, which is gradually assimilating an increasing rep from America’s greatest choreographer and meeting the stringent standards of performing Balanchine style with ease.

At just 81 minutes these three one-act works were a little on the short side for a full evening of ballet but this was surely a case of never mind the length, feel the quality. Just like those vintage dresses!

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