This is a tremendously ambitious production by this small touring company of young dancers. Sometimes I felt they might be pushing a bit too hard, particularly in the darker aspects of the story, leaving some of the younger members of the audience who didn’t know the story a bit restless. However, there is much that is glorious, particularly the terrific dancing to folk melodies in the opening part and the courtly dancing near the end. The dancer in the role of the mermaid was excellent and I wish I could credit her but unfortunately they were not selling programmes on Sunday at my local theatre, the Beck in Hayes and her mermaid make up was so good that I can’t work out who she was from the pictures on their website. If it comes near you then please make sure that you see it and, if you are taking young children, do make sure they know the story before they go.
Yuhui Choe was just wonderful in the lead role. It is not an easy role to dance but she made it seem easy, as if that was just how she felt like moving. She was so good it made me feel a bit sorry for all the other dancers in yesterday afternoon’s performance. The production overall was a little lacking, without the punch of the ENB production I saw last year but the moment Yuhui Choe came on stage it was transformed. The choreography by Petipa was essentially the same but the set and costumes were all a bit fussy and the bad fairy, Carabosse, was played by a ballerina who was not a patch on James Streeter for the ENB.
Steven McRae starred as the soloist in Frederick Ashton’s Rhapsody, an extremely demanding role that he made seem easy, putting terrific humour into the part. The music was fun too, Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (that’s the theme that was used for the South Bank Show music). Wayne McGregor’s new work, Tetractys – the Art of Fugue, followed. As with Raven Girl, it was very dimly lit as if he was trying to hide the choreography and I just didn’t get it. If that was too abstract for me, Kenneth Macmillan’s Gloria was almost too literal in its portrayal of the horrors of the Great War, danced to Poulenc’s Gloria. If Steven McRae’s dancing was the visual highlight of the matinee, Gloria was definitely the musical peak, sublimely played and sung by the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House and the Royal Opera Chorus. I wish I could credit the singer but there was a last minute change and I’m not sure of her name.
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 The Nutcracker, 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.