Review: Royal Ballet in Triple Bill at Royal Opera House

Performance: Oct 06
Reviewed by Mariko Harano - Friday 13 October 2006

The Royal Ballet opened its new season with a triple bill of pivotal modern classics of 20th century ballet, Stravinsky Violin Concerto (George Balanchine to the music of Stravinsky), Voluntaries (Gren Tetley to Poulenc) and Sinfonietta (Ji?í Kylián to Janá?ek), all of which were created in the 70’s. The programme presents an intriguing insight into how choreographers sought for an innovative way of expression in an abstract form, moving forward from classical disciplines. All three choreographers chose full orchestral music composed in the first half of the 20th Century as an instigator of their creations rather than as mere accompaniment. For this reason, having Antonio Papano, the music director of the Royal Opera House, as conductor has considerable significance.

Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto (1972) showcases his master craftsmanship in constructing a highly sensual and athletic representation of feminine bodies with minimalist décor and costumes, comprising two pas de deux by two principal couples backed by an ensemble of eight couples. The dance master’s fervent admiration for feminine beauty is culminated in geometrically and athletically thrilling amalgamations of bending and contortions executed by two female leads (Darcy Bussell and Leanne Benjamin on 5th: Zenaida Yanowsky and Alexandra Ansanelli on 11th) with their marvellous elasticity and steel strength, manhandled by their partners (Edward Watson and Johan Kobborg: David Makhateli and Viacheslav Samodurov) in a chivalric manner. The choreography not only mirrors Stravinsky’s quirky and temperamentally variable (from stern to mischievous) tune, but also uncloaks seductiveness hidden in music. Amongst all the excellent soloists from two different groups of cast, Ansanelli, a former principal dancer of the New York City Ballet, shines out with her exquisite and rejoicing timing to music.

Voluntaries by Tetley is an elegiac tribute remembering the sudden demise of the choreographer, John Cranko. This emotionally charged piece, made to an extremely dramatic organ concerto, opens and closes with visually striking scenes with a principal couple in white unitards shaping a formation reminiscent of a double crucification with their heads and opened arms drooping. Like Balanchine, Tetley highlights the physicality of two female dancers en point (one partnered by a solo male and another supported by two males) with almost over-stretched arabesques accentuated by a plethora of dynamic lifts, while offering the male dancers a chance to show off their masculine prowess through energetic leaps, forceful kicks into the air and seemingly effortless maneuvering of their partners. Reflecting music in which the mode swings between solemnity and joy, the choreography demonstrates a contrast of serene mourning and ecclesiastical jubilation (thereby celebrating Cranko’s life dedicated to dance). Two principal females from each team of the casting, Alina Cojocaru and Marianela Nuñez, are remarkable in delivering delicate sentiment, while Jason Reilly, a guest dancer from the Stuttgart Ballet, leaves a strong impression with his muscular stage presence.

Sinfonietta, which catapulted Kylián and his Netherlands Dans Theater into international recognition in 1978, is different from the two preceding pieces in many aspects. It’s a patriotic answer in dance form to Janá?ek’s epic symphonic piece. There are no point shoes; no ballerinas with their cavaliers; therefore, no exhibition of sensual bodywork. This is an ensemble piece through and through, performed by fourteen dancers in simple, pastel-coloured costumes – medium length flare skirt dress for women; tight fitted T-shirts and long trousers for men. Its joie de vivre is sung out by a bustling succession of jumps and turns in the air.

Let alone Papano, it is a real bonus to have Vasko Vassilev as solo violinist for Stravinsky, Stephen Westrop to play the organ and supplemental groups of brass players in side boxes for Janá?ek. Where else but at the Royal Opera House can dance spectators expect such musical luxury to relish? If only the exhilarating brass fanfare in Sinfonietta was more tuned!

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