Royal Ballet Triple: Asphodel Meadows, Enigma Variations, Gloria, Covent Garden, November 2011Posted on 20 November 2011
The first and last items on this excellent programme are to music by Poulenc, and both these two ballets — though not the music — deal with death. In an announcement at the start of the evening, a request was made for no applause during Gloria. As a result the audience seemed hesitant about applauding the first item, Asphodel Meadows, though several people applauded, more than once, during the third item, Gloria, before being shushed by others. How much better if the Royal Opera House had saved the announcement until just before Gloria!
The revival of Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows, which had its premiere in May 2010, is most welcome. The music is Poulenc’s Concerto in D minor for two pianos and orchestra, danced by an ensemble of fourteen plus three principal couples, one for each movement of the concerto. The first pair of principals, Rupert Pennefather and Marianela Nunez in brown, showed immense emotion in their movements, and their pas-de-deux in the slow middle section of the first movement was beautifully done. Tamara Rojo and Bennett Gartside in charcoal danced the Larghetto, and Laura Morera and Ricardo Cervera in burgundy the Allegro of the third movement. Flawless dancing of great musicality, and Tamara Rojo in particular was striking in her superb control. The ensemble work was excellent, and this was a perfect start to an evening ending with the bleak World War I retrospective of Gloria, as the meadows of asphodel appear in Homer’s Odyssey (Book XI, line 539), where Odysseus travels to Hades and encounters the shades of dead heroes.
Poulenc’s Gloria in G, in praise of God, was used by Kenneth MacMillan for this elegy to those whose lives were lost or blighted by the Great War. Andy Klunder’s fine designs show the men with helmets, though their uniforms and flesh have been torn off, and the metal-frame ruin over a trench is a stark reminder of a wasteland of death where ghostly men and women emerge from the horizon. Sarah Lamb was beautifully moving as the woman in mourning, well partnered by Thiago Soares, and Laura Morera was the fearless girl, tossed about by Valeri Hristov, Kenta Kura and Johannes Stepanek. The ballet is based on Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, and the female soloists both reflect aspects of her personality. She lost her lover and her brother during the war, and Carlos Acosta was superb in his solo role, showing a fierce intensity in his portrayal. His solos were gripping, and as the sole figure on stage at the end he pauses, and suddenly drops out of sight behind the abyss.
Sandwiched between these two memorials to the victims of war, performed less than two weeks after Armistice Day, was Ashton’s brilliant ballet to Elgar’s Enigma Variations. Christopher Saunders portrayed Elgar himself, with Christina Arestis as his wife. Her fluidity of body language was pure Ashton, and a joy to watch. Nehemiah Kish and Lara Turk were well cast as the contemplative scholar subduing his emotions, and the young romantic girl with whom he’s in love, and this genteel pas-de-deux is followed by a complete contrast with Edward Watson giving a remarkable performance of the difficult and demanding Troyte variation. One contrast follows another, and Bennet Gartside was a finely understated Jaeger in the Nimrod variation, followed by Roberta Marquez as Dorabella. Her body and arm movements were beautiful in this fiendishly difficult solo, though some musicality was lacking, and José Martín was enormous fun in the bulldog solo. In the end it was Christopher Saunders and Christina Arestis who framed this ballet so beautifully, and the evening was well conducted by Barry Wordsworth.
This is a triple bill not to miss. Performances continue until November 30 — for details click here.