“Whether you regard the triple bill as an evening of highlights or an insubstantial pageant depends on the programme,” – says the Daily Express, before going on to review the Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill. I suppose that’s true, but as someone who loves picnics, antipasti, collections of short stories and boxes of mixed truffles, I can truly say that mixed bills often make my ideal evening. Like those truffles: no, don’t like this one… never mind, let’s move on to the next.
Well, their critic Neil Norman was enthusiastic about the programming: “The final triumvirate of works in the Royal Ballet’s current season is a fine example of assiduous selection.”
“In Scènes de ballet, choreographed in 1948, Frederick Ashton created a work of unanswerable formal perfection,” says Luke Jennings in The Observer. “Technically, Scènes is a highly exposed and demanding piece, especially for the principal couple (Valeri Hristov, Sarah Lamb) and the four male soloists (Ricardo Cervera, Bennet Gartside, Ryoichi Hirano, Johannes Stepanek), whose cool precision must engrave the stage-space as the 12-strong female corps advance and retreat around them in a shimmering phalanx.”
The second piece was by Glen Tetley: “Tetley’s Voluntaries, which the Royal acquired in 1976, was made for the Stuttgart Ballet shortly after their leader John Cranko’s death and it’s impossible to see the work without feeling its sense of loss and elegiac tribute,” says The Times‘ Debra Craine. “Tetley’s choreography is filled with heartfelt exclamation points, lofty shapes and a succession of daring overhead lifts. The music is Poulenc’s Organ Concerto, within which Tetley finds both grief and joy. On Saturday night Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather were the couple charged with fulfilling Tetley’s emotional needs, and they did so most effectively with dancing that was sensuous and exalted.”
The evening closed with Kenneth MacMillan. Zoë Anderson for The Independent said “MacMillan’s Rite of Spring is full of thrusting hips and splayed fingers, the dancers’ feet swishing on Sidney Nolan’s painted floorcloth. The choreography can look strangely jazz-hands in the first half, but develops its own sense of ritual. The corps wind themselves into a snaking line, then crumple to the floor. In another sequence, they lie down in changing patterns, as the chosen sacrifice picks his way between their scissoring legs.
“His way, because for this revival the sacrifice is a man, as at performances late in MacMillan’s life. The choreography was never feminine, but the gender switch still has a big effect. The jagged positions look less angular on a sturdier male frame, while stressing the force of these steps.
“Edward Watson, in the evening, is a more anguished victim, his narrow body twisting with a look of pain. Steven McRae, at the matinee, has more stamina for the final dance, driving himself powerfully to death.”
Luke Jennings concludes, “The role was created by Monica Mason, then a corps dancer, now the Royal’s artistic director. Transmission, renewal, the beat goes on.”
Photo: Steven McRae in The Rite of Spring by Johan Persson