Mayerling, with Acosta and Benjamin, Royal Ballet, Covent Garden, May 2013

Retiring from the Royal Ballet this season is Leanne Benjamin, who made her debut with the Company as Mary Vetsera in Mayerling in 1992. She rounds off an immensely varied career by including the same role, and what a performance she gave last night. With Carlos Acosta in the dark role of Crown Prince Rudolf, the two of them exhibited a stunning display of dramatic desperation. The fluid movements of their Act III pas-de-deux gave such an impression of impulsive energy you could imagine they would exhaust themselves and fall asleep after this climax of emotion.

Benjamin and Acosta, all images ROH/ Bill Cooper

Benjamin and Acosta, all images ROH/ Bill Cooper

Yet the suicide pact, if that’s what it was ā€” though almost all the evidence was systematically destroyed ā€” went ahead, and 1889 marked a year when the Austrian empire fell into terminal decline, with Rudolf’s mother the Empress Elisabeth in mourning for the rest of her life. In this performance, Zenaida Yanowsky portrayed that role to perfection, ignoring her son at the ball in Act I that celebrated his marriage to Princess Stephanie, and when Rudolf visits her later, their interaction was full of unrequited affection and feeling. Acosta himself showed dramatic gravitas combined with emotional desperation, a vulnerability the women found immensely attractive, and on their wedding night Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Princess Stephanie was beautifully expressive in her mixture of fear and desire.

2.Leanne Benjamin as Mary Vetsera Carlos Acosta as Prince Rudolf in Mayerling  #4 Photo by Bill CooperYet the emotionally disturbed Rudolf fires a gun to shock her, and at the ball earlier has insisted on doing a dramatic turn with her sister Louise, delightfully danced by Emma Maguire. Among the huge cast it is easy to get confused with all the women: Rudolf’s mother, his wife, his former mistress, current mistress, and future mistress, and his mother is having an affair of her own with the witty Colonel ‘Bay’ Middleton, portrayed as charm itself by Gary Avis. The easy grace he showed in his pas-de-deux with her in Act II, jealously watched by Rudolf, found its counterpoint in a solo of beautifully expressed anguish by Acosta.

When he then forms a liaison with Mary Vetsera, it is she who fires a gun, and the sensuality and passion in their Act II pas-de-deux was glorious. In Act III Laura Morera as Rudolf’s former lover Countess Larisch showed enormous grief and concern before being ordered out by the Empress, and the denouement between Acosta and Benjamin was sensational and heart rending.

Fine conducting by Martin Yates, and performances with various casts continue for the next two weeks, and Acosta and Benjamin dance again on June 6, and on the final performance of this run on June 15 ā€” for details click here.

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