Review: Royal Ballet in Triple Bill at Royal Opera House

Performance: 5-9 June
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 9 June 2006

This final week of the Royal Ballet’s Season is devoted to a mixed bill that celebrates the company’s 75th anniversary by featuring work from each decade of its life so far. Rolling back these years showed how adventurous the company was as an infant; how conservative it became during a middle age of staid neo-classicism and how, as a sprightly septuagenarian, it now eagerly embraces innovation whilst respecting and preserving its heritage.

Infancy was represented by Ninette de Valois’ The Rake’s Progress (1935) together with two slight but historically significant solos: a fragment that remains from Frederick Ashton’s *Dante Sonata*, the first ballet made on the company after the start of World War II and Satan’s solo from *Job* (1931), also made by de Valois.

*The Rake’s Progress* _is significant as the hinge by which the embryonic English ballet tradition is attached to Diaghilev’s _Ballets Russes (in which de Valois danced). In this revival, Johan Kobborg gave a towering performance as the Rake, journeying through the stages of his decline into debt and madness with great pathos. He was well-matched by Laura Morera, portraying the betrayed girl with a touchingly gentle and dignified humility.

The crowd-pleasing divertissements were unsurprisingly the balcony pas de deux from MacMillan’s *Romeo & Juliet*, danced with aplomb by Carlos Acosta and Tamara Rojo; Ashton’s velvet *Rhapsody* pas de deux, impeccably performed by Miyako Yoshida and Federico Bonelli and the Farewell pas de deux from MacMillan’s *Winter Dreams, although a perceived lack of emotional attachment between *Darcey Bussell and Roberto Bolle made the intensity of their farewell an unconvincing affair. My personal highlight was the complex and angular duet between the incomparable Leanne Benjamin and Ed Watson in Wayne McGregor’s Quaglia, the sole representative of 21st century work from this ‘photo album’ of the Royal Ballet’s past.

The bill concluded with the reconstruction of Ashton’s *Homage to the Queen* made to Malcolm Arnold’s eclectic score. Created for the Coronation, it has been remade as a tribute to the Queen on the occasion of her 80th birthday. New contributions by David Bintley, Michael Corder and Christopher Wheeldon sit well within the framework set by Ashton – as recreated by Christopher Newton – and alongside his ‘Air’ section as the only original choreography to have survived intact down the years.

It is a sumptuous, creamy dessert, perfect for the occasion where richness is acceptable but not as an everyday event. Steven McRae captivated the House with his stunning virtuosity as Wheeldon’s *Spirit of Fire* and the often unsung soloist, Joshua Tuifua, possessed a notably gentle lyricism and sensitive port de bras as the lead attendant to the always delightful Alina Cojocaru in Corder’s _*Water* _section.

Even the most diehard royalist might find their ardour stretched to incredulity in the genuflecting patronage of the final apotheosis but ballet’s preponderance towards condescendingly lavish grandeur is occasionally forgivable. This remodelling of _*Homage to the Queen* _is a worthy way for the 75 year-old to mark its own anniversary by honouring the coincident milestone in its Patron’s life, just so long as it is kept for such special occasions!

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