BWW Review: FREDERICK ASHTON TRIPLE BILL, Royal Opera House
After recent performances of new choreography from Crystal Pite, Wayne McGregor and Liam Scarlett, one could be forgiven for believing the Royal Ballet has dragged itself reluctantly into the 21st century. Perhaps it's an overly emotional response, but there is something wonderfully reassuring and warm in this Ashton triple bill that closes the current season. It's a return to what the Royal does best in these delicate works that shine in their artistry and finesse.
Akane Takada leads the cast in a dreamy The Dream, and is a pure and decorative Titania flawlessly suited to this role, while Steven McRae is a regal Oberon, bounding about the stage, gesticulating and exuding control over the comical proceedings. Together they lack a little chemistry compared to more established partnerships, but Ashton's wonderfully busy and well-paced staging mean there is never time for this to be a focus.
It's the corps who inject the required magical, ethereal quality to Ashton's take on the Shakespeare classic: their tight synchronicity allows one to float away on this adventure with them. Their leaps have a lightness and quality of phrasing that raises the work to something more memorable. Valentino Zucchetti's endless energy and spritely showing as Puck was very commendable, as her repeatedly hit perfect 180-degree angles in his jumps.
Symphonic Variations is altogether less engaging over it's 20-minute duration, however it's still a perfectly pleasant watch. Vadim Muntagirov dances Ashton's expressive choreography like a dancer who is now emerging into the peak of his career. He's not the boy seen on the English National Ballet documentary (from 2010) anymore. His understated but impressive partnering of Marianela Nunez was refined and mature.
Let's not be mistaken, however. Although there is much to celebrate in each of these works making up this illustrious triple bill, this evening was all about retiring Principal star Zenaida Yanowsky, gracing the Royal Opera House stage for the last time with her portrayal of Marguerite in the emotionally charged love story Marguerite and Armand.
The infamous piece created for Fonteyn and Nureyev was intended only for them, and it's true that choreographically this is not a masterclass, focussing nearly entirely on the acting. However, it's still a gem for anyone who enjoys a narrative journey. We're taken through every conceivable emotion in a warp-speed display, and you'd be hard pressed not to be touched by the devastating climax.
Yanowsky is vulnerable while still entirely captivating on this, her final performance. We find Marguerite in the late stages of her fatal illness followed by integral scenes that punctuate her relationship with Armand. She handles each moment with sensitivity and depth that is completely engrossing for the audience. She brims with passion that we know will ultimately lead to her pain.
Equally, Roberto Bolle is a powerful and commanding figure; he swishes his cape valiantly and masterfully enters and exits the stage in a pleasingly dramatic fashion. He also, importantly, pulls off the adventurous lifts and throws in The Country scene as emotions run high.
Some might say it's not a classic choreographically, but it is pure theatre. An entirely satisfying way to sign off on her stellar career.
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton