Varied Ballet Triple Bill at Covent Garden

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Stravinsky, Chopin, Britten: Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, 23.02.13 (JO’D)

Apollo(choreography – George Balanchine):
Federico Bonelli
Melissa Hamilton
Hikaru Kobayashi
Yuhui Choe
Yasmine Naghdi
Mayara Magri
Nathalie Harrison

24 Preludes (choreography – Alexei Ratmansky):
Leanne Benjamin
Alina Cojocaru
Sarah Lamb
Zenaida Yanowsky
Valeri Hristov
Steven McCrae
Edward Watson
Rupert Pennefather

Aeternum(choreography – Christopher Wheeldon):
Claire Calvert
Eric Underwood
Olivia Cowley
Hayley Forskitt
Tierney Hemp
Fumi Kaneko
David Trzensimeich
Donald Thom
Nicol Edmonds
Thomas Mock
Marcelino Sambé
Meaghan Grace Hinkis,
Yasmine Naghdi,
Alexander Campbell,
Valentino Zucchetti,
Sander Blommaert,
Paul Kay,
Ryoichi Hirano

Originally choreographed in 1928, George Balanchine’s Apollo, which opens this three-part programme, contains muscular, athletic movement (leg extensions) within a framework of geometric precision. As danced by members of the Royal Ballet, the atmosphere created was as taut as the strings of a lyre. Apollo (Federico Bonelli) on stage the whole time) is born, presented with a lute, and danced to by three Muses. Of the three, he chooses Terpsichore (Melissa Hamilton). They dance a pas de deux. There is an almost complete synthesis between the choreography and Stravinsky’s music. Every step and gesture was both expressive of, and expressed by, the notes that accompanied them. The control of movement and music throughout was such that the climax (simple in appearance as it was) sent a palpable tingle up the collective spines of the audience.

In contrast to this pared-down tautness, Alexei Ratmansky’s 24 Preludes (the first work by the Artist-in-Residence at American Ballet Theatre to be performed in the UK) appeared loose and free. Under softer lighting and in softer-coloured costumes (blues, mauves and greys with a metallic sheen), eight dancers performed, now as a group, now in twos or threes, on a bare stage. Sometimes two of the men competed for the attention of one of the women; sometimes it was the other way round. At times aggression seemed about to erupt, while at one point dancers who were ‘off’ stood to one side of the stage, as if at a rehearsal or practice session, appraising and admiring the energetically executed ballet steps of their colleagues. The tone was often light-hearted; the audience laughed more than once at a complicit look or gesture thrown in its direction by dancers who seemed to be sending themselves up as dancers. There was an irreverent virtuosity to the dancing over the forty minutes that the piece lasted, but the movements did not always connect to the slow and thunderous orchestration of Chopin’s music.

Christopher Wheeldon’s Aeternum, also being premiered in this programme, starts where Nijinksy’s iconoclastic ‘The Rite of Spring’ (premiered in 1913) ends. Dancers in a tight circle jump back to reveal the figure of a dead woman. Her purple dress could refer to Hitchcock’s ‘Topaz’, and the rewind effect that follows is redolent of cinema. The woman rises from the floor and appears to re-enact the events that took place before her death. The music is by Benjamin Britten, whose centenary this work honours, but the choreography also looks forward as if to explore new ways of moving, and of showing movement, at the beginning of a new century. Under what looks like a giant piece of fossilized, post-apocalyptic driftwood, dancers crawl across the stage with gestures that bear little resemblance to the neoclassical language of Apollo. The direction of the piece, however, is from dark to light. The woman dies again. This time a female figure in white rises from behind her. By the end, the driftwood has gone and the final note (which also references cinema) is one of elegy, not violence.

John O’Dwyer