"The Firebird," "In the Night," "Raymonda Act III"
The Royal Ballet
The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,
by Judith Cruikshank
copyright 2012 by Judith Cruikshank
Like most other ballet companies around the world the Royal Ballet is in the middle of a long run of that perennial box office favourite, "The Nutcracker". But to bring a little light into his dancers’ lives director Kevin O’Hare has introduced a mixed bill of ballets which have been in the company’s repertoire for some years, but have been little seen of late and it was interesting to see how a new generation of dancers coped with the demands made on them.
What I particularly liked about her interpretation was the way she conveyed the dangerous, non-human nature of the creature. Firebirds can be evil she reminded us and owe no allegiance to men, even Tsars. This made for a striking contrast with Bennet Gartside’s warm and likeable Ivan Tsarevitch. Gartside isn’t usually cast in princely roles (he’s an excellent Prince Gremin but that’s different) but this one really suits him. His Ivan may be a little rustic, but he knows how to behave when there are princesses around, and he’s definitely the man in charge.
The Enchanted Princesses have clearly been working on their ball skills – there were very few dropped apples, but I thought Kostchei’s creatures rather too well-mannered; energy and attack are more important here than straight lines, and I don’t know why Gary Avis chose to play Kostchei himself for comedy rather than as a figure of terror.
Jerome Robbins’s ‘In the Night’ could be described as a minor work, but a minor ballet by a great choreographer is still worth seeing. Consisting of three duets in contrasting mood, each danced to a Chopin nocturne, it demands real emotional commitment from the dancers. But for the most part this cast seemed to hold back rather than letting go.
Sarah Lamb and Frederico Bonelli – he hampered by a singularly unflattering jacket – were competent and conventional. And although Alina Cojocaru danced exquisitely in the final, passionate duet, little of the emotion came across. Only Zenaida Yanowsky, partnered by Nehemiah Kish really seemed to relish Robbins’s choreography, luxuriating in the movement, although she could with advantage, add a touch of wit to the affectionate nature of the choreographer’s take on a mature and loving relationship.
Finally, Rudolf Nureyev’s staging of the wedding dances from Petitpa’s ‘Raymonda’, to which he added variations from earlier in the ballet. Classical dance doesn’t get any grander than this, especially in Barry Kay’s sumptuous gold and ivory decors and costumes. It needs plenty of attack and a real understanding of classical style.
Sadly, both these qualities were lacking. There is more to a classical variation than a series of steps, although these were mostly beautifully performed. But the sense of structure, the inner dynamic of the variation were absent, and the pretty Hungarian-style flourishes with which Petipa embellished his dances went for nothing. One longed for Nureyev himself – gone now for twenty years - to encourage the dancers to abandon their polite restraint and, as that fine ballerina Lynn Seymour put it, discover “what Petipa’s classicism is and what it means”.
Leading the Hungarian dance, I admired Ryoichi Hirano, partnering Christina Arestis. In the principal roles Yanowksy was again supported by Kish who somewhat unwisely added unnecessary flourishes to his variation. Lovely as she was in the Robbins, here in this most testing of roles, it seemed that Yanowsky’s classical technique has lost some of its edge, but she revelled in Glazounov’s melodies and the choreography showed the glorious sweep of her dancing to advantage. And it was reassuring to see that in Nureyev’s hectic finale to this great showpiece the dancers really appeared to be enjoying themselves, born along by the music and the choreography to embrace the moment.
If Robert Clark’s playing of the Chopin Nocturnes was somewhat pedestrian, the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, conducted by Barry Wordsworth more than made up for any lack of feeling and excitement in the two other works on the programme. But if this is a sample of the type of programming director Kevin O’Hare has in store in the way of triple bills, then the outlook is promising for both dancers and audiences.
Christina Arestis and Ryoichi Hirano in "Raymonda Act III". Photo Tristram Kenton, courtesy ROH.
Itziar Mendizabal and Bennet Gartside in "The Firebird". Photo Tristram Kenton courtesy ROH.
Federico Bonelli and Sarah Lamb in "In the Night". Photo Tristram Kenton, courtesy ROH.
Artists of The Royal Ballet in "Raymonda Act III." Photo Tristram Kenton, courtesy ROH.