“Concerto”, “Las Hermanas”, “Requiem”
The Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
17 November 2012
by Judith Cruickshank
copyright 2012 by Judith Cruickshank
One great virtue of Kevin O’Hare’s choice of ballets for this tribute to Kenneth MacMillan, marking the twentieth anniversary of his death, is that it focuses attention on an aspect of the choreographer’s output that tends to disappear under the weight of his full evening works. MacMillan could and did make successful shorter ballets, and it could even be argued that some of his full-evening ballets would benefit from pruning in order to run for about an hour -- the duration of "Requiem" and one with which MacMillan appeared to be really comfortable. But in the context of an Opera House, this would present considerable difficulties and is another story anyway.
One could hardly imagine a better interpreter of the first movement that Yuhui Choe. Fleet-footed, light and musical she sailed through the choreography with smiling ease, but I missed the pretty flourishes and accents in the footwork which seem to have been effaced from the Royal Ballet’s stagings. Stephen McRae was neat and nimble, but his strained expression detracted from the effect of ease and I found his dancing lacked weight.
The story of MacMillan’s inspiration for the second movement, created on Lynn Seymour, is well known, and taken out of context, this lovely pas de deux has become a gala staple. Seymour had a rich, almost voluptuous, way of moving. Sarah Lamb is a more linear dancer, but what really detracted from her performance was the self-conscious air she adopted. Her cavalier was Ryochi Hirano who is in a fair way becoming the partner of choice for the Royal Ballet’s ladies.
Itziar Mendizabal is by no means the first dancer to have been overwhelmed as the soloist in the tricky last movement. The corps de ballet and the three demi-solist couples would ideally have been more together, but what really spoiled this performance for me was what I can only describe as the air of gentility which pervaded the whole enterprise. What happened to the speed, drive and energy which was the ballet’s keynote?
“Las Hermanas” was revived with the help of Ray Barra who played the man in the original cast in Stuttgart. The ballet is based on Federico Garcia Lorca’s play, “The House of Bernada Alba” and Nicholas Georgiadis’s black and grey designs beautifully convey the cramped horror of the sisters’ lives, enclosed in their tyrannical mother’s house, with scant chance of escape. This doesn’t come over quite so effectively on the large Covent Garden stage, but what really traduced the drama was the introduction of a tableau showing the Man and the Youngest Sister in a heavy clinch immediately the curtain went up. This not only spoils the original beginning; the ominous sound of the mother’s stick in the darkness as she descends the staircase to find her waiting daughters, but also gave away the twist in the plot which brings about the final tragedy.
Thiago Soares was the Man, the putative fiancé of the Eldest Sister, heiress to her dead father’s estate. With fluffed up hair and a bushy moustache, he now wears quite a natty suit for his presentation to the sisters. Previously the suit was shiny and slightly too tight which added to the air of low flashiness. But he conveyed all the Man’s brutishness and sensuality. Laura Morera was good as the Jealous Sister, although she could afford to go more full out and Melissa Hamilton looks suitably pretty in a black wig as the Youngest Sister, although there’s much more depth and nuance to the character than Hamilton has so far discovered.
The role of the Eldest Sister was created on Marcia Haydée, one of the greatest dramatic dancers of her generation. Zenaida Yanowksy suffers in this role from the disadvantage of her height -- glorious in other roles -- which makes her markedly taller than the rest of her family, even taller than Soares when on point. The duet with Soares in which she veers between revulsion and possessiveness was beautifully judged, but she looks like a cuckoo in that particular nest and this dilutes the claustrophobic clannishness necessary for the drama.
The last work on the programme was “Requiem”, also created for the Stuttgart company; MacMillan’s tribute to its director, John Cranko, after his early death. None of the dancers on stage would have known Cranko, few would have known MacMillan, but they all performed with real sincerity and commitment. Carlos Acosta took the leading male role, softer and less athletic in style than Richard Cragun, the original, but nonetheless a lovely performance. Leanne Benjamin was the woman in white and Marianela Nuňez took over the part created on Birgit Keil. Nuňez danced beautifully, but dare I say that she could be even more moving if she were to allow her femininity to shine through more strongly. Throughout the evening there was strong musical support from the orchestra, conducted by Barry Wordsworth and excellent soloists, both vocal and instrumental.
Carlos Acosta in "Requiem." Photo: Tristram Kenton, courtesy of ROH.
Yuhui Choe and Stephen McRae in "Concerto." Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH.
Thiago Soares and Zenaida Yanowksy in "Las Hermanas." Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH.