Review: Royal Ballet - The Dream | Symphonic Variations | Marguerite and Armand

Performance: 07 - 10 June
Reviewed by Rachel Nouchi - Tuesday 6 June 2017

Zenaida Yanowsky as Marguerite in Marguerite and Armand © Tristram Kenton/ROH 2011

Reviewed Friday 02 June 2017

The Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill is a glorious tribute to the works of the late Frederick Ashton, the company’s founding choreographer.

The evening rolls out three one-act ballets of such diversity, it only highlights the choreographer’s immense imagination and far reaching ability to distill the human experience through movement, whether through the narrative or abstract form.

The Dream opens in a 50 minute one-act ballet created to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth. Here, Ashton has transformed the play into a sumptuous rendition of the human and fairy worlds colliding-framed by Mendelssohn’s floating incidental music.

As chords are struck in a callout to fairies, played with pitch perfect precision under Emmanuel Plasson’s watchful baton, Oberon arrives onstage and surveys the landscape as we, the audience, anticipate the arrival of magic as much through the musical timbre as the movement.

Famous for his understanding of movement and music, Ashton understood that once the dancer comprehended the musical score, they would ‘know the steps,’ and this is clearly evident in Steven McRae’s Oberon, a precise and richly virtuoso act as he spins and winds across the stage in perfect time.

Bang on tempo, McRae’s sharply executed jumps are also feat to behold as he elevates to dizzy heights, yet achieves soft landings, as if operated by invisible strings from above and noiselessly released back down onstage.

While Akane Takada’s debut as Titania lends new meaning to the phrase ‘all that’s solid melts into air.’ Here in her debut performance, Takada literally embodies her steps with such limpid and fluid grace, it’s as if she will transform into something other than human before our very eyes.

Up next, Symphonic Variations requires some sobering up after the near hallucinogenic experience of The Dream. The challenge for the cast in this ballet is to find a way of imprinting something personal into the choreography so technically precise and sparse in melodrama.

Here, the ballet offers no narrative comfort, just a revelatory execution of pure lines, forms and geometric shapes keenly observed by the cast. It’s as if the dancers carved lines out onstage with sharp knives not ballet shoes in their accuracy of placement and alignment.

There are noteworthy moments of stillness within each choreographic frame beautifully held by the dancers, like walking through a gallery of neo-classical sculptures that come alive.

But Vadim Muntagirov, one of the two male dancers of a cast of six offers stands out in an impressive, spirited performance as male counterpart to the female spirits as the dancers create perfectly formed cameos weaving across the stage in groups, then apart, but always in admirable control.

Through such simplicity unhampered by narrative, the choreography allows audiences to witness ballet in its purist form, while the setting- modernist sweeping charcoal lines etched onto faded yellow cloth background beautifully highlights the pure white of the dancers as their leotards glimmer in contrast like freshly polished Alabaster.

The third piece, in yet another gear shift, moves from cool modernist abstraction to late nineteenth century romanticism embodied by tragic love and consumption in Marguerite and Armand – a one-act adaptation of Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelia – originally created as a showpiece for Fonteyn and Nureyev, accompanied by Liszt’s impossibly romantic piano sonata in B Minor.

Zenaida Yanowsky, soon to be standing down from the Royal Ballet, projects a passionate and achingly beautiful swan song as tragic courtesan, utterly beguiling as she accepts her fate while guest star Roberto Bolle’s performance as her lover appears somewhat at odds with both her height and age.

Yet as Bolle sweeps dramatically cloaked in black velvet across the stage in the final minutes, hurling himself at his dying lover’s feet, it’s hard not to be taken by such a heartfelt emotional performance that rises and falls with the music in perfect harmony.

Rachel Nouchi is a movement researcher/practitioner based at Central School of Speech and Drama and contributes as an arts reviewer for UK based performances. You can find her on Twitter @NouchiR

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