Royal Ballet Triple: Birthday Offering/ A Month in the Country/ Les Noces, Covent Garden, June/July 2012

This triple bill offers an evening of glorious choreography, opening with the exuberance of Ashton’s Birthday Offering.

Rojo and Bonelli, all images ROH/ Tristram Kenton

Birthday Offering, first shown in 1956 for the 25th anniversary of the Company (then known as the Sadler’s Wells Ballet), starts with the melodious phrases of Glazunov’s Concert Waltz No. 1, and Tom Seligman in the orchestra pit made it swell with pride and energy. The choreography is full of charm and inventiveness, and the fourteen dancers, led by Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli, performed it beautifully. Among the six supporting men I particularly liked Brian Maloney, who showed wonderful head and arm movements, and the seven variations for the girls were a delight, starting superbly with Yuhui Choe. Helen Crawford showed excellent technique in the very difficult variation number seven, and Tamara Rojo came last in variation six, dancing brilliantly, both alone and with Bonelli. Costumes by Andre Levasseur are stunning, and this made a perfect start to the evening, but where was the floral bouquet for Rojo? A similar thing happened to her with the recent Prince of the Pagodas — very odd.

Yanowsky and Pennefather

From the unalloyed pleasure of Birthday Offering the evening moved to the drama of A Month in the Country, created by Ashton in 1976. To music by Chopin, arranged by John Lanchbery, this one-act ballet condenses the main aspects of Turgenev’s play using choreography that fully expresses the emotions of the characters. Zenaida Yanowsky gave a superb portrayal of the mother, exhibiting her customary flirtation with Rakitin at the start, followed by her attraction for the new tutor and finally her anguish at his departure. As he flees the house she struck a lovely pose of pensive regret by the doorway before stepping very slowly into the room, bringing the ballet to its close. In the meantime her sudden loss of interest in Rakitin was perfectly expressed, and Gary Avis gave a finely drawn portrait of this family friend. Her jealousy of Vera was beautifully judged, and Emma Maguire was superb as Vera, with her own fit of jealousy stunningly expressed. As the attractive young  tutor, who brings such immense confusion to the household, Rupert Pennefather was perfect, showing in his solos just the right joy and angst on occasion, and his partnering of both the mother and Vera was beautifully done. This performance of Month was worth the whole triple bill, with Birthday Offering as one bonus, and Les Noces as another.

Les Noces with Christina Arestis (top) as the bride

Les Noces is an extraordinary work, supported not only by an orchestra, but four pianists, and four vocal soloists plus chorus. Bronislava Nijinska’s stylised choreography to music and song-text by Stravinsky shows the preparations and ritual surrounding a peasant wedding, and Natalia Goncharova’s costumes in brown and white express the unifying power and conservatism of the local culture. There are analogies with the Rite of Spring, but here the chosen one is the bride whose previous life is being converted to one of procreation and duty to her husband, according to the implacable force of tradition and the collective will of the community. The dancers brought the choreography to life with huge force, and Ryoichi Hirano made the bridegroom a tall and powerful figure, with Christina Arestis suitably pliant as the wife. This ballet, always an invigorating experience to watch, brought the evening to a perfect close.

It’s a triple bill not to be missed, and I shall report on a different cast next week. Performances continue only until July 7, so book immediately — for details click here.

2 Responses to “Royal Ballet Triple: Birthday Offering/ A Month in the Country/ Les Noces, Covent Garden, June/July 2012”

  1. Chris says:

    Thanks Mark – still the first place I look after a night out. I went last night and for me Les Noces was “worth the whole triple bill” but Month in the Country was utterly delightful. Regarding Rojo’s bouquet, maybe they left it for Marlanela Nuñez who received three – and then they brought another one! I’ll see Rojo tonight and be able to compare performances but I hope the only reason is hay fever.

    To anyone who reads your blog and thinks they cannot afford Covent Garden, my £12 ticket last night gave me a comfier seat than I got at the National Theatre last weekend and a full view of the stage. Tonight I’m in a seat with a slightly restricted view (I’m tall so I’ll still see the whole stage) for £6! Seats in the amphitheatre are high up but once the performance starts you feel like you are much closer.

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