Royal Ballet Mixed Bill: Scènes de ballet, Five Brahms Waltzes, Symphonic Variations, Month in the Country, Covent Garden, October 2014Posted on 19 October 2014
Four Ashton ballets in one evening — what a spoil. The first and third created just after the Second World War, the other two in 1976.
Scénes de ballet is a perfect opener. Stravinsky’s music, originally commissioned for a Broadway revue, was conducted with suitable astringency by Emmanuel Plasson, making a striking contrast to one of the Company’s erstwhile conductors who would always round off Stravinsky’s hard edges. And on stage the pure classicism and geometric patterns of Ashton’s choreography were beautifully rendered by a cast led by Steven McRae and Sarah Lamb. Her solos and interactions with McRae and the other four men were danced with angelic precision and sublime arm movements. Pure joy.
After Helen Crawford’s vivid performance of Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan we were back to the glorious classicism of Symphonic Variations. When Ashton created this in Spring 1946 he intended the mystical calm of César Frank’s music to provide a serene antidote to the recent war. This glorious serenity, extremely hard for the dancers with those low lifts and rapid beats, was beautifully achieved here in a flawless performance.
There was perfect unison between the outside girls, Yasmine Naghdi and Yuhui Choe, and the outside boys, James Hay and Tristan Dyer produced wonderful solos. In the centre, the elegant Vadim Muntagirov provided a pillar of strength and stability for Marianela Nuñez, whose vertical poise and ethereal grace was a thing of wonder. Franck’s sublime blending of orchestra and piano, played here by Paul Stobart, gives the music an urgency and tranquillity captured so beautifully in the choreography, and executed with superb precision here by the six dancers. As Ashton’s unspoken antidote to war it would be wonderful if the Royal Ballet could include it with whatever they have planned for the 70th anniversary of VE Day next year, a date currently blank in the ROH diary.
From the perfection of Symphonic Variations, the evening ended with Ashton’s evocation of Turgenev’s play about the tranquillity of a Russian country estate being suddenly broken by the presence of a tutor whose huge attractiveness to the woman of the house disturbs the balance of everyone’s life. A Month in the Country is Ashton story-telling at its best.
As soon as Rupert Pennefather arrives as the handsome tutor the exchange of glances with Rakitin, at the moment of a drum beat from the orchestra, speaks volumes. Gary Avis made a very stylish Rakitin, beautifully expressing his jealousy at the prospect of competition for the lovely Natalya, portrayed with exquisite emotional feeling by Zenaida Yanowsky. The chemistry with Pennefather was palpable, and as Vera, the ward, Emma Maguire’s dizzy enchantment and fury with Natalya was compellingly expressed. With Paul Kay as a marvellously boyish Kolya, Sian Murphy showing simple-hearted joy in her attraction to the tutor, and a superbly affecting ending by Yanowsky, this was a brilliant evocation of love breaking the sedateness of a well ordered life. Wonderful.
Performances of this mixed bill continue on various dates until November 12 — for details click here.