Royal Ballet Triple: Limen, Marguerite and Armand, Requiem, Covent Garden, October 2011

Having seen Limen two years ago, my main memory was of blue number lights at the rear of the stage in a confusing on-again-off-again pattern, along with dancers barely visible in a half-light, but that is only in the second part. The first half is better, and I like Kaija Saariaho’s music, I love the use of bright colours in Lucy Carter’s lighting, and I rather like the video projections of liquid crystal numbers floating in a blue background at the start. Wayne McGregor’s choreography was brilliantly executed by Steven McRae and a first rate cast, but the last part in half light is dull, overshadowed by the bright blue lights at the rear, and I was glad of the interval before the main two items of the evening.

Rojo and Polunin, photo Tristram Kenton

Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand is a beautiful ballet based on Alexandre Dumas’s La Dame aux Camélias, with designs by Cecil Beaton. He wrote it for Fonteyn, partnered by Nureyev, who was almost twenty years her junior, and it was performed here by Tamara Rojo with the 21-year old Sergei Polunin. Her dancing, reminiscent of Fonteyn herself, showed huge emotional commitment, and her pain is palpable as he throws her aside in anger. Hers is a characterisation of the role it will be hard to beat. Polunin’s stage presence and physicality were wonderful, and the rest of the cast gave fine support, with Gary Avis as a most engaging Duke, like a lightly bearded version of Bruce Forsythe, and Christopher Saunders as a very solid father. When Ashton originally wanted to create this piece the right music evaded him until he heard Liszt’s piano sonata in B minor on the radio in 1962, and the ballet followed the next year to an orchestrated version of the sonata. In this performance Barry Wordsworth conducted the orchestra, but with Robert Clarke sounding overly sententious on the piano the music failed to match the heights of emotion reached by the dancers.

Leanne Benjamin in Requiem, photo Johan Persson

Finally in Requiem, to Fauré’s music, the emotion of the dancers is more restrained but very much the essence of the piece. Kenneth MacMillan created this ballet as a tribute to another wonderful British choreographer, John Cranko of the Stuttgart Ballet. The board of governors of the Royal Opera House originally turned down the idea of creating a ballet to Fauré’s sacred music, but MacMillan turned to the Stuttgart Ballet itself, which performed it as a memorial to the loss of their inspiring leader. The dancers exhibit collective grief, and the evening cast was wonderful together, with Carlos Acosta exhibiting enormous physical presence, and Leanne Benjamin riding high above the company as they carried her. These are dancers whose very presence is a tribute to dance, and the performance of the Sanctus by Leanne Benjamin and Rupert Pennefather was beautiful. The company danced with utter conviction, and perfect placing, and the pas-de-trois with Pennefather, Acosta and Benjamin at the end was superbly done.

Carlos Acosta in Requiem, photo Johan Persson

Requiem is really something to behold, and this triple bill is an opportunity to see highly emotional work of Ashton and MacMillan in the same programme. Don’t miss it. There are four more performances until October 20 — for details click here.

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