Osipova shines in Raymonda Act III but ghosts of the 1960s haunt The Royal Ballet’s triple bill

United KingdomUnited Kingdom The Royal Ballet’s Concerto/Enigma Variations/Raymonda Act III: Dancers of The Royal Ballet, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House / Pavel Sorokin (conductor). Directed for the screen by Ross MacGibbon and broadcast live from the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to Cineworld Basildon, Essex, 5.11.2019. (JPr)

Vadim Muntagirov in Raymonda Act III © Foteini Christofilopoulou


Music – Dimitry Shostakovich (solo piano: Kate Shipway)
Choreography – Kenneth MacMillan
Designer – Jürgen Rose
Lighting designer – John B. Read
Staging – Christopher Carr

Leading Dancers – Anna Rose O’Sullivan, James Hay, Yasmine Naghdi, Ryoichi Hirano, Mayara Magri

Enigma Variations

Music – Edward Elgar
Choreography – Frederick Ashton
Designs – Julia Trevelyan Oman
Lighting design – John B. Read
Staging – Kevin O’Hare & Christopher Saunders

Cast included:

The Lady Elgar – Laura Morera
Edward Elgar – Christopher Saunders
A.J. Jaeger (Nimrod) – Bennet Gartside
Dora Penny (Dorabella) – Francesca Hayward
Arthur Troyte Griffith (Troyte) – Matthew Ball
Lady Mary Lygon – Itziar Mendizabal 

Raymonda Act III

Music – Alexander Glazunov
Choreography – Rudolf Nureyev
Designs – Barry Kay
Lighting design – John B. Read
Staging – Christopher Carr

Cast included:

Raymonda – Natalia Osipova
Jean de Brienne – Vadim Muntagirov

The problem with this triple bill is the dichotomy of what The Royal Ballet was in the 1960s – when all three works were first seen – and what they are now. Genial hosts Anita Rani and Dame Darcey Bussell had trouble stopping Wayne Sleep talking during a backstage interview but one thing he did say was extremely significant: ‘Notators can teach you the steps but they can’t teach you the style. As the style is so important so, hopefully, we can hand that on … you can only do it through demonstration.’ Praising Luca Acri – who Sleep had been coaching in the role of George Robertson Sinclair in Enigma Variations – as ‘phenomenal’ he revealingly said how he had ‘been able to put things back that have disappeared because some other dancers didn’t like doing that step … or couldn’t do them’. Later the principal artists’ senior teacher, Alexander Agadzhanov, confirmed how the job of ‘ballet masters is to keep it how it was choreographed, and it should be how it was’. Sleep had also said that if a role was created ‘on a particular person it is very difficult to try and get into the skin of that person’ and reminisced about the 1960s being ‘a golden era of The Royal Ballet’.

My opinion, for what it is worth, is that ballet needs – because of the diminishing returns as years pass – less replication and more re-creation though this is perhaps a topic best left for another time. Only in Rudolf Nureyev’s Hungarian-flavoured 1969 Raymonda Act III – when one great Russian dancer of today paid tribute to a legendary compatriot of another generation – did what we see come truly alive as Natalia Osipova magisterially dominated the entire ballet. Here was someone at long last not visibly thinking about the next step. Osipova danced with an instinctive musicality during her solo that began with the merest clap of her hands, a ‘come-hither’ stare down the camera lens, and shone through the refinement of her bourrées.

She was exquisitely partnered by Vadim Muntagirov of whom Osipova said – in her improving English – ‘Vadim is not just a fantastic dancer, he is a fantastic partner and I don’t need to tell him nothing, he did everything perfect’. (This made me a little concerned for anyone who does need to be told!) Muntagirov is always the most elegant of dancers with bravura leaps and the softest of soft landings. I just wish he didn’t make everything look so easy and he lacks Nureyev’s pantherine quality that was evident in all he did at the height of his powers. I first saw this Raymonda Act III on a couple of occasions in the early 1980s when it was Nureyev himself partnered by Marguerite Porter and Antoinette Sibley.

Barry Kay’s ostentatious white and gold designs always apparently get a round of applause and they did again on this occasion. It provided a splendid backdrop for seeing The Royal Ballet at their bravura best during the series of solo variations and a pas de quatre where there was a rare sighting of Cesar Corrales – former English National Ballet principal – who danced with his usual élan and confirmed what a pity it is that he now gets so relatively few opportunities to show his obvious talent.

The delectable Glazunov score was performed with respectful exuberance by the Royal Opera House orchestra under Pavel Sorokin, a conductor who was equally at home in the other music we heard, Shostakovich’s – in parts joyful, sad or romantic – Second Piano Concerto and Elgar’s characterful Enigma Variations.

The triple bill began with Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s 1966 Concerto I had last seen in 1986 and which he had originally created for Berlin’s Deutsche Oper Ballet. I didn’t think it had all the ease and unanimity of movement this work clearly demands, though in the cinema everyone is under the microscope of some closeup camerawork. For the central Andante – featuring Kate Shipway’s virtuosic playing – MacMillan created a duet for Lynn Seymour and Rudolf Holz. In her autobiography Seymour recounted how this was ‘a romantic impressionistic sequence which resulted from Kenneth slyly observing me working alone, an hour on pointe before evening rehearsals. He transported curving movements of concentrated simplicity – an arm slowly dropping, a leg stretching sensuously – into a joyous pas de deux’. Once again one size does not fit all, and it is no good a ballet master barking commands at dancers when they are not as good as those the ballet was choreographed on. Much better – in my humble opinion – to allow the new generation a modicum of interpretive leeway to allow them to truly inhabit their steps.

As it was, Concerto was plotless and rather soulless despite looking a ‘Tangerine Dream’. One to watch Anna Rose O’Sullivan (partnered by James Hay) got everything off to a spirited start with clean lines and vivid stage presence with Yasmine Naghdi and Ryoichi Hirano perfectly illustrating the underlying melancholy of the central movement with their languorous pas de deux.

I was a little disappointed by Sir Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations which is subtitled ‘Friends Pictured Within’. This was probably my fault as in my extended concert-going life I have never heard it live nor had I read anything about Sir Edward Elgar’s musical miniature pen portraits. It is all a bit of a headlong rush with someone coming on to do their party piece and then it is quickly time for the next one. Julia Trevelyan Oman designs take us to the Elgars’ house in Worcestershire where we see an imaginary gathering of Elgar and his friends. The composer’s career is in the doldrums and he is awaiting acceptance of the Enigma Variations by famed conductor Hans Richter. Before the telegram arrives those in Elgar’s social circle are shown in dances that match their personality. It would have been good had Anita Rani and Darcey Bussell introduced all the individual characters – or caricatures – for the watching cinema audience.

This must be another ballet haunted by the ghosts of those who were in the original cast along with Wayne Sleep, such as Derek Rencher, Svetlana Beriosova, Desmond Doyle, Anthony Dowell and Antoinette Sibley. Philip Mosley bicycled with aplomb as ‘R.B.T’, Matthew Ball was a frantic blur as ‘Troyte’, Luca Acri indeed did a good impression of Wayne Sleep as a quicksilver ‘G.R.S.’, whilst the skittering Francesca Hayward’s ‘Dorabella’ enchanted and raised the spirits of the middle-aged composer. Wearing Elgar’s tweed jacket now was Christopher Saunders, with Laura Morera as his wife and Bennet Gartside as A.J. Jaeger (his music publisher) who together performed an elegiac ‘Nimrod’ that is, of course, the emotional heart of the Enigma Variations.

Jim Pritchard

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