This was a hugely ambitious project – to commission three new dance works to commemorate the start of the First World War. It worked and all three of them knocked spots off the Royal Ballet’s effort with their revival of MacMillan’s Gloria earlier this year. Liam Scarlett’s No Man’s Land played with the title, referring to both the area between the front lines and to the women working in the munitions factory. All the leads were excellent, especially Alina Cojocaru, but I have to also praise Max Westwell as I ended up sitting next to his parents. This was followed by a revival of the Firebirdthe company premiered last year. The music is still wonderful and was brilliantly played by the ENB’s orchestra under Gavin Sutherland and the reduced choreography was an improvement on last year’s. Russell Maliphant’s Second Breath featured figures rising up only to fall to the ground again and again. It seemed a bit repetitive but that was the point, as the music featured recordings from the Imperial War Museum of soldiers from country after country listing the numbers of the fellow soldiers killed in the war. The most remarkable new work was Dust from Akram Khan, apparently his first work for a ballet company. His own astonishing dancing dominated, leaving me to wonder whether the choreography could stand up without him to dance. Luckily it was a question I didn’t need to ask as he both he and Tamara Rojo danced at the matinee as they had for the premiere the night before. I doubt I’ll see any better dance or ballet this year. As I was leaving the Barbican, a group of young people was just in front of me. One guy said to the others that it was the first time he’d cried in a theatre. He wasn’t the only one.
I’ve made it clear that I think Stravinsky was the greatest composer for the ballet and I have really enjoyed some of his classic ballets this year: the Royal Ballet performing Firebird and Rite of Spring, and English National Ballet’s interpretation of Fokine’s Petrushka. Surprisingly, my favourite interpretation of his music this year was Boston Ballet’s flawless performance of Balanchine’s Symphony in Three Movements. However, I was just astonishingly lucky to see Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg’s final performance with the Royal Ballet: two of today’s greatest dancers giving what might have been their greatest performance to date. The event was amazingly emotionally charged, a couple in real-life as well as on stage, saying goodbye to the company in one of the most romantic ballets.
An astonishing evening. No-one knew this would be Johan Kobborg and Alina Cojocaru’s final performances for the Royal Ballet until about two days before. I probably couldn’t have got a ticket if it had been known about when booking opened. The true story is about Crown Prince Rudolf, his love of guns and passion for women leading to the tragic final night in his hunting lodge at Mayerling where he injects himself with morphine, shoots dead his girlfriend then himself – a sort of combination of Sid Viscious and Kurt Cobain with their fame but not their music. The music in this case is that of Liszt but, as arranged and orchestrated by John Lanchbery. Its combination of pomposity, sweetness and musical fireworks may not be great music but it is perfect for this Austro-Hungarian melodrama.
The greatness of this ballet comes from astonishing choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, danced perfectly here by Kobborg and Cojocaro with two marvellous comic solos from James Hay as Prince Rupert’s cab-driver/entertainer Bratfisch. MacMillan takes classical choreography and adds less conventional moves to create a passionate intensity. Kobborg and Cojocaru, partners in real life as well as this ballet, danced with their own passion, adding an extra dimension for this final performance that drew a very long standing ovation, surrounded by heaps and heaps of flowers. I will be very surprised if I see any ballet performance this good for years. It has taken two days to write this review – it is still inadequate.