Ashton Mixed Bill, with Rojo and Polunin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, February 2013Posted on 13 February 2013
This was Tamara Rojo’s evening, ending with a lovely bouquet of flowers for her — making up for their lack of such tributes in her last days with the Company, after accepting the artistic directorship of the ENB. In Ashton’s take on The Lady of the Camellias, she was a captivating Marguerite, glamorous and consumptive, showing fine textures of emotion. So lovely in her red dress in the second tableau, so apparently serene yet emotional in the third with Armand’s father, her broken bourrées heart wrenching in the fourth, and in the last tableau her demise left me spellbound.
Her partner, Sergei Polunin also left the Company last season, but in a far more abrupt way, and it was good to see this extraordinarily talented dancer back again. Their pas-de-deux were flawlessly executed and full of the tension that Ashton brought to his choreography for this ballet. Polunin himself showed a deft and light touch as he entered in the first tableau. Secure in his dancing and dramatic in his portrayal he only perhaps lacked command at the odd point when he was no longer with her. But this was a beautifully sensitive performance, and Christopher Saunders gave a fine portrayal of the father.
It ended a thrilling evening of ballet preceded by Monotones I and II between the intervals. Superbly danced, and Marianela Nuñez, Federico Bonelli and Edward Watson formed a heavenly triple in Monotones II. Nuñez in particular brought an ethereal quality to her performance, with extraordinarily graceful arm movements as she developed them from one position to another. When geometry in motion has such quality it leaves the mere human realm, which of course is exactly what Ashton intended.
Before the first interval was a short triple bill starting with Ravel’s eerie La Valse, which the Company danced beautifully, and ending with Johan Strauss’s enduringly happy Voices of Spring, gloriously performed by Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell. As they danced I couldn’t help but think of the dreadful stuff one sees in the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna, but there is of course no comparison. This is Ashton, and the brief middle item in the first part, his ‘Meditation’ from Thaïs, was magical, drawing a calmly riveting performance by Leanne Benjamin and Valeri Hristov. She floated in the air and his body movements exhibited huge strength and security.
Musically too this was a treat. Vasko Vassilev played a wonderful violin for the Meditation, and Robert Clark a fine piano in the Liszt. But the main plaudits must go to Emmanuel Plasson for some of the best conducting I have heard for the Royal Ballet in recent years. His French background is perfect for the Ravel, and the Satie in Monotones, and to my taste he fully brought out the tension and lyricism in the Liszt for Marguerite and Armand.
This is a sell-out, and as some seats can be bought for £6, better value cannot be had in London. Performances with various casts continue until February 23 — for details click here.