Royal Ballet Triple: Scènes de Ballet/ Voluntaries/ The Rite of Spring, Covent Garden, May 2011

The three works in this mixed bill fit beautifully together.

The ensemble of twelve from Scènes de Ballet, photo Dee Conway

Scènes de Ballet is a wonderful work by Frederick Ashton to a piece Stravinsky composed in 1944 for a Ziegfeld review. The stylised brilliance of Ashton’s choreography, with its unexpected poses and épaulement, suits the sharp elegance of music, evoking an era wiped out by the Second World War. The glorious geometric precision, with the twelve girls of the ensemble forming varying patterns occasionally split apart by the four male soloists, like four seasons dividing the twelve months in a year, is a delight. As the curtain rises, the principal male dancer is centre stage surrounded by the male soloists. The female ensemble enters, followed later by the female principal who dances with all five of the men. The idiosyncratic choreography, matching the interesting irregularities of Stravinsky’s score, is a treat.

The four soloists were excellent on both occasions, with the principal couples being Lauren Cuthbertson with Sergei Polunin in the matinée, and Sarah Lamb with Valeri Hristov in the evening. The irregular rhythms make this a difficult piece for the dancers — you really have to feel the music — and in the evening performance Sarah Lamb did so with enormous fluidity and sparkle. The female principal is the star of the show, and she brought the whole ballet to life. Although the dancing was wonderful, the orchestra in this first item sounded a bit ragged under the direction of Barry Wordsworth, though they were far better in the other Stravinsky piece —The Rite of Spring — later in the show.

Sarah Lamb in Voluntaries/ photo Bill Cooper

The second item, Voluntaries was created by Glen Tetley in late 1973 for the Stuttgart ballet. He made it as a memorial to their artistic director John Cranko, following his recent early death, and set it to Poulenc’s Concerto in G minor for organ, strings and timpani. The organ music drives the whole work and was played with huge freshness and vitality by Thomas Trotter — well done to the Royal Ballet for engaging him. In Tetley’s wonderful choreography the principal couple is supported by one female and two male soloists, along with an ensemble of six couples.

The matinée was well danced by Leanne Benjamin and Nehemiah Kish, with Sarah Lamb, Ryoichi Hirano and Valeri Hristov, but it was the evening when this ballet really came to life. The huge size difference between Benjamin and Kish, which seemed to cause difficulty in one pas-de-deux, disappeared in the evening with Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather, along with Cuthbertson, Hristov and Polunin as the soloists. The ensemble remained the same, but there was no comparison between the afternoon and evening performances. The evening exhibited far more joy and energy, and Nuñez and Pennefather were superb together.

Rite of Spring

As the last item, Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite of Spring is a wonderful work, always fresh, and it was superbly performed. The orchestra and dancers produce enormous rhythmic energy, their ritualistic movements announcing the onset of Spring. As night falls, the Chosen One emerges. This sacrificial victim can be male or female in MacMillan’s choreography, and here it was Steven McRae in the afternoon, and Edward Watson in the evening. Both were excellent, and I find Watson to be extraordinary in his portrayal of this role. More than any other member of the company he seems exceptional at being a victim — I’m reminded of his role in The Judas Tree — and his movements made me think of a victim facing his own sacrifice energised by drugs, yet still exhibiting fear at the prospect. There was terror in his eyes and huge emotion in his dancing — a riveting performance!

This wonderful triple bill continues until June 11, but there are only four more performances — for details click here.

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