It seems that the Royal Ballet can't go wrong. The company has been on a winning streak, which is continuing, justly, into Monica Mason's final season as director.
This triple bill succeeds in refracting Royal Ballet choreography into three distinct places, each one occupied by one of the company's three resident choreographers – Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan and Wayne McGregor. Ismene Brown for The Arts Desk writes,
The cool physical activity of McGregor's Limen, the crimson passions of Ashton's Marguerite and Armand, the symbolic sculpture of MacMillan's Requiem – the weekend's new triple bill at Covent Garden shows three faces of British ballet-making over the past half-century. While none is the masterpiece of its creator, together they describe an arc over time where lyrical emotion became replaced by gymnastic motion, compression by diffusion, individual idiosyncrasy by a kind of balletic collective.
Limen, made in 2009, represents McGregor's attempt to grapple with the sophistication of the classical language while maintaining true to his own love of anatomical investigation.
a moving evocation of mortality, and an affirmation of the power of the human imagination to inhabit its own, brief, visions of infinity.
Jean Rush in The Stage observed,
The dancers display both the simplicity and complexity of classical ballet, Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood showing the beauty of light and dark skins blending together in McGregor's sinuous and moving pas de deux.
A pas de deux that was
… creepy and beautiful at the same time.
… creates knots of intense, meticulously shaped dance for a large cast, in a striking decor of light and video, with Edward Watson the nonpareil in the extreme articulations.
Ashton's 1963 creation was tailor made for the Margot & Rudy franchise. Zoë Anderson in The Independent writes,
Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand gets a new lease of life. A retelling of the Traviata story, Marguerite and Armand is a star vehicle that looked forlorn without its original stars. Made to show off Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, it was never danced by anyone else in their lifetimes. In 2000, the Royal Ballet revived it for Sylvie Guillem. She's a megawatt presence, but the role didn't suit her; the ballet's weaknesses were painfully clear.
This time around Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin are the central couple who, says The Guardian,
reclaim the ballet as their own.
The Telegraph was in no doubt about Polunin's suitability to the role:
As Armand, Polunin looks the part: his backcombed hair and high, beautifully defined leaps irrestistibly recall Nureyev. His energy and passion, combined with perfect technique, shoot out from the stage. At the start, he seemed to be predicting emotion rather than feeling it; by the conclusion, as he cradled Rojo in his arms like a broken doll, he had found his way to the part's essence.
The subtly observant Luke Jennings writing, appropriately, for The Observer had a more balanced opinion,
At just 21, Polunin is one of the most gifted dancers of his generation, and as the youngest ever interpreter of Armand (Nureyev's 25th birthday fell five days after the ballet's opening night) he is at once recklessly demonstrative and ruthlessly self-engrossed. He dispatches the ballet's opening scenes with precision, his airy leaps and supremely elegant line expressing his delight with the notion of himself as a man in love…
But thereafter, faultless though his dancing is, he lacks the emotional reserves to dissolve his performance in Rojo's. He seems to hold himself in a different dimension from her, and if he looks into her eyes it's only to see himself reflected there.
Which, at 21, means the lad can still grow into the role. But there were no doubts as to Tamara Rojo's capabilities.
… her Marguerite a wondrous combination of frailty and unbounded joy.
said The Times. And The Telegraph added,
She makes every tiny gesture telling and her staggering exit on pointe when Armand has publicly humiliated her is heartbreaking.
Luke Jennings appreciated Rojo's every thought and gesture,
Few dancers can express the thrill of love like Rojo. At rest, her features are thoughtful, almost melancholy. Her Marguerite is not a woman who expects happiness as her birthright. And then, as Sergei Polunin lifts her into a suspended grand jeté, they light up with a joy that is close to disbelief. As she drifts into a series of fluttering bourrées she seems almost weightless with rapture. At the same time Rojo edges the moment with foreknowledge. Deep down she knows, as we do, how it must end.
So now we can see this ballet afresh; The Arts Desk thought,
Rojo and Polunin wiped the slate clean of legendary resonances and created a heartrending new pair of lovers.
David Dougill concluded,
An inspired partnership, a stupendous performance.
MacMillan's Requiem interprets the sublime Fauré score with images of grieving pietà, transcendent lifts, tableaux of benign acceptance bathed in white celestial light.
said The Guardian. Though The Times added,
Not all of it works, but where it's good it's very very good.
Requiem was MacMillan's 1976 memorial to his friend and fellow choreographer John Cranko, with Yolanda Sonnabend's “soaring, translucent pillars, conjuring a cathedral of airy space”, said The Telegraph, which The Arts Desk appreciated too, saying that it is “one of Yolanda Sonnabend's most ravishing designs for MacMillan”. Lauren Cuthbertson was débuting in the piece. The Guardian loved her,
Lauren Cuthbertson is outstanding; her ability to interpret dance and music as if encountering them, spontaneously, for the first time lifts the ballet's religious imagery to a place of extraordinarily affecting human emotion.
Though The Independent thought that
Nehemiah Kish makes a bland partner.
Federico Bonelli dances with tender understanding as a Christ-like figure.
The Telegraph sums up,
When Lauren Cuthbertson gently encompasses Federico Bonelli's torso with arms that never touch him, she seems like a guardian angel, a kind of hopeful faith. It is a reminder of all dance can do.
But The Arts Desk thought differently,
Federico Bonelli and Lauren Cuthbertson were clean-edged but conveyed nothing particularly personal in the other two leading roles, especially by contrast with the soprano and baritone Madeleine Pierard and Daniel Grice.
The Stage, however, was convinced,
Superbly danced by the entire company led by Lauren Cuthbertson, Federico Bonelli and Steven McRae. The intricacy and drama of MacMillan's work and Faure's inspiring music, memorably performed by the Royal Opera Chorus, add up to a rare theatrical experience.
Photo: (from top) Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood in McGregor's Limen -ROH/Bill Cooper; Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin as Marguerite and Armand – ROH/Tristram Kenton; Leanne Benjamin and Carlos Acosta in Requiem – ROH/Johan Persson.
Continues until October 20 at the Royal Opera House
Graham Spicer is a writer, director and photographer in Milan, blogging (under the name ‘Gramilano') about dance, opera, music and photography for people “who are a bit like me and like some of the things I like”. He was a regular columnist for Opera Now magazine and wrote for the BBC until transferring to Italy.
His scribblings have appeared in various publications from Woman's Weekly to Gay Times, and he wrote the ‘Danza in Italia' column for Dancing Times magazine.