The ENB advertises this as, “Probably the best ballet you’ve never seen.” Most full-length ballets are either very familiar, such as Swan Lake and TheNutcracker, or are based on well-known stories, such as the Royal Ballet’s recent Alice in Wonderland. Unless you have read Byron’s poem The Corsair, buying the excellent programme is therefore essential. This will give you the full story which starts with the pirate captain, Conrad, and his faithful slave, Ali, going to rescue Menora, the woman he loves, from a slave trader. Having rescued her amid much joyful dancing, the most famous part of the ballet is the dance between Ali and Menora. This is not technically a pas de deux, as Conrad dances part of it with him but the most exciting choreography is given to the relatively junior soloist Joan Sebastian Zamora who drew the loudest cheers of the night with his astonishingly athletic leaps and twists, while Erina Takahashi was superb as Menora. I felt a little sorry for Yonah Acosta’s Conrad as his part, originally a non-dancing one, is very much in the background but he came into his own later in the ballet.
After the slave dealer has recaptured Menora, Act III features the Pasha’s opium-induced dream, Le Jardin Animé, in which the flowers of his garden come to life, dancing beautifully with students from the English National Ballet as the buzzing insects around them. After this pastoral interlude, it is back to the action as Conrad recaptures Menora and they sail off into the sunset – only to end up shipwrecked. The production and costume design by Bob Ringwood is very different from his productions for films such as Batman and Alien III but equally stunning, permitting a smooth transition from scene to scene without interruption, particularly in the third act which moves rapidly through five separate scenes. In summary, a hugely enjoyable family show, even if it is a story of murder and kidnap by pirates, sexual slavery and a drug-induced hallucination!
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.
This ballet is a collection of three short works by Balanchine, Emeralds, Rubies and Diamonds. I expect jewels to sparkle, but Emeralds, danced to music by Fauré, didn’t – more like jade than emeralds. Rubies really did sparkle, the costumes and choreography echoing an American parade – all it needed was a few batons to twirl. The music it was set to by Stravinsky was also much more to my taste. The final ballet, Diamonds, fell between the two, more exciting than the first, lacking the pizzazz of Rubies but replacing it with glorious sumptuosity with music by Tchaikovsky. I left having enjoyed it all but not quite sure what was lacking until I remembered Boston Ballet’s interpretations of Balanchine’s choreography earlier in the year (which included another Stravinsky piece). Boston Ballet understand how to swing; Royal Ballet do not. Indeed, I wonder if there is any British ballet company that could have really done justice to this work. All the same, a very enjoyable afternoon, particularly for Rubies.
I still think it’s best Nutcracker around. Wayne Eagling’s choreography has steadily been tweaked over the years, so that the rather clumsy switching between the handsome young man at the ball and the nutcracker is now handled very neatly. I went to a matinee and did not expect top casts but Laurretta Summerscales and Max Westwell seemed pretty top notch to me, both dancing perfectly, as did the entire company. The only mistake I made was in getting a seat in the balcony. It’s so much less comfortable than equivalent seats in the Covent Garden amphitheatre, at least for long legged people like me. Still well worth it thanks to an £11.50 offer at LastMinute.com.
First up, Chroma. I thought I detected some White Stripes riffs there, so I checked that co-composer “Jack White III” is indeed that Jack White. It is, and I love his self-deprecating website which I found when checking. The music, co-written and arranged by Joby Talbot, was terrific for dance, with strong rhythms driving Wayne McGregor’s superbly danced choreography. Next up, The Human Seasons. Greg Haines’ music was pleasant, as was David Dawson’s choreography, but it did go on and my mind wandered away a number of times.
Finally, the wonderful Rite of Spring which I still think this is the greatest ballet score ever written. I always find the Royal Opera House stage amplifies the sounds of the dancers rather annoyingly but Kenneth McMillan’s choreography gets the dancers using it, hands and feet rasping across the fabric covered stage and feet thumping as complementary percussion to the excellent orchestra. Claudia Dean was first class as the Chosen One and my attention only ever left the stage to watch the orchestra which I could see last night thanks to my more expensive ticket than usual: a whole £11! Well worth it for The Rite alone (and if they’d cut the central piece I could have been home at a civilised time).
Carlos Acosta has tweaked the classic Petipa choreography and seeing it so soon after Mikhailovsky Ballet’s performance of the original gave me a good chance to spot the improvements he has made. A new prologue helps the story make a little more sense but the main change has been to loosen up the choreography, allowing a smoother more naturalistic feel. Minkus’s music has also been arranged and re-orchestrated by Martin Yates. It was a great improvement on the earlier performance, although I am not sure whether that was down to the new arrangement or the superb playing of the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House under Vasko Vassilev. Either way, there was more humour in the music where appropriate and more passion when required. I saw the matinee performance so didn’t see the star casting led by Acosta himself. Still, Alexander Campbell and Roberta Marquez were excellent as the leads, although the latter was almost outclassed by Laura Morera’s superb performance as the street dancer.
Tonight was the first full performance of this new ballet which will be touring for the rest of the year. There were some slight glitches with, for example, the backdrops but I am sure these will be ironed out very soon. The ballet itself is great fun, with some terrifically energetic dancing in the first act, good humour from the dwarves and a marvellously sumptuous final act with some excellent dancing. I would certainly recommend it, particularly as a first ballet for a young child. Sorry it’s a hurried review – it’s late and I’m out tomorrow.
My one slight criticism is that each half starts with a traditional overture with curtains drawn. This is great with a live orchestra but with pre-recorded music there is nothing but a red curtain to watch. It would be better to provide some visual interest such as the tableaux which are common now with the larger ballet companies. Do take a look at their Facebook page to see some great pictures.
Thank goodness it was nothing like those gloomy posters. After a short film about Nureyev, the opening ballet was Petrushka, with Fokine’s original choreography and Benois’s designs for the Ballets Russes. The score by Stravinsky is one of his most enjoyable, based on Russian folk tunes like Rite of Spring and the Firebird. The ballet is full of colour and was well danced at the matinee, although Anton Lukovkin did have the unenviable job of following film of Nureyev himself but acquitted himself well. The second ballet, Song of a Wayfarer, is a duet between the wayfarer and his destiny, a calm reflection between the two more exuberant pieces. The Mahler songs were excellently sung in German by Nicholas Lester but there were no surtitles and no libretto in the programme, just a simple description of the ballet.
The triumphant climax of the triple bill was Raymonda Act III, a glorious wedding celebration in gold and white. Going to the matinee, I did not expect the top casting but I cannot believe anyone could have surpassed the performances of Elena Glurdjidze and Dimitri Gruzdyev as the couple getting married. James Streeter and Stina Quagebeur led the company in swirling, exuberant style for the Hungarian dance. This was followed by a series of set pieces, culminating in an astonishing solo by Elena Glurdjidze which drew every ounce of sensuality from Glazunov’s music and well deserved the huge applause it received.
I’m not sure it makes sense to have a tribute to someone who is dead – a Celebration of Rudolf Nureyev might have made more sense and would certainly have fitted the ballets better. A more celebratory, less gloomy poster campaign might also have helped ensure a full house, thought it was not bad for a matinee. If I did not have other commitments, I’d certainly go again.
With Darcy Bussell and Carlos Acosta in the audience, the company had to be good – and they were. Serenade, an early Balanchine work, was very American and reminded me Jerome Robbins’s work for West Side Story over 20 years later. It must have been quite ground breaking in its time but it was not a patch on the brilliant Symphony in Three Movements, also choreographed by Balanchine to music by Stravinsky – it was well worth attending for this alone. Between these was a new work, Plan to B, by Jorma Elo to music by von Biber. The other works were excellently accompanied by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra but this was performed to a recording, presumably due to the early instruments required. It was a virtuoso pieced with six amazing young dancers. This was followed by yet another performance of Nijinsky’s Apres Midi d’un Faun. I first saw this about 50 years ago and it still bewilders me. At its best, it has a strange power; sadly the faun in this performance lacked the sexual power the role demands. On the plus side, they used the complete Bakst backdrop and this and the beautiful music made it well worthwhile. I’d love to see programme 2 but unfortunately will not be free.
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.