The Royal Ballet: “Concerto”/ “Enigma Variations” / “Raymonda Act III”
Royal Opera House, London, UK, October 22, 2019
Ballet’s first mixed bill of the 2019/20 season is a snapshot of 1960s British
ballet and the polar places it went. Sandwiched between a spare modern creation
and a frothy classical revival are bouncy character variations set to a turn-of-the-century
orchestral work—slightly mismatched courses, sure, but an interesting snapshot
of the company’s mid-century catalogue, plus a chance to see the Royal’s robust
solo talent in action.
“Concerto” is bright and bracing, a tangerine dream of prickly pointework and understated
allegro. On opening night new principal Marcelino Sambé joined Anna Rose
O’Sullivan in a jaunty first movement peppered with sparrow-like corps. There
was some unsteadiness amid the darting piano keys and tight, flicking
choreography, but spry energy—and O’Sullivan’s composed syncopations—prevailed.
Things perked up considerably in the second movement, with Reece Clarke and Lauren Cuthbertson delivering a sweeping pas de deux against a citrus sunset. It’s not a ballet of abandon, but the pair struck some hot-blooded notes with deep pênchés and over-the-head arabesques, bringing dynamic storytelling to this abstract piece. Later came Fumi Kaneko with the tidy precision MacMillan’s snappy steps demand, along with a knack for finding the hang time in sharp, swift turns. Behind her, an ensemble rocketed to heroic effect, urged on by the gallant notes of Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2.
With his 1899
score “Enigma Variations,” the composer Edward Elgar saluted his social circle with
affectionate musical sketches. Frederick Ashton’s 1968 ballet animates these
character studies with elaborate costuming and springy, expressive dance, drawing
in bicycles and flat caps, dignified turns and dizzy tumbles. Where “Concerto”
is a zesty sorbet, “Enigma Variations” is a full turkey dinner: rich and laden,
its many garnishes jostling for attention. There’s a wistfulness that keeps these
set pieces from being too twee, though the more inflated characterisations can
Laura Morera gleamed as the elegant Lady Elgar, while Matthew Ball turned heads with prim, fleet twizzles. Christopher Saunders’ Elgar was mostly reserved, but his saunter with old pal Nimrod was a poignant highlight. It was Itziar Mendizabal who stole the show, though, wafting across the stage like a wraith, her puffy sleeves casting jellyfish ripples. Francesca Hayward was nimble as ever, though her poise feels somewhat wasted on the flighty, babyish Dorabella.
dessert with the glittering confection that is “Raymonda,” which Rudolf Nureyev
slotted into the company’s rep back in the ’60s. Featured here is Act III of
this Petipa showpiece, a pageant of imperial grandeur complete with fur-trimmed
hats and Hungarian festivities. (The ballet weds the titular countess and her
knight in the court of Hungary’s King Andrew II.) Naturally, divertissements
abound, from vibrant character dances to stately solos. The corps have some
folksy toe-heel malarkey to contend with, but the act also gifts us divine
dashes of petit allegro.
saw Vadim Muntagirov and Sarah Lamb take on the principal roles, pros who
looked right at home with triple turns and demanding extensions. Lamb raised
the stakes by serving up haughty claps and an ice-queen gaze. Divorced from the
bigger ballet, the act has a slightly untethered feel, but it comes into its
own as the royal rollicks proceed, building to a grand kaleidoscope of a
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