BWW Review: THE FIREBIRD/A MONTH IN THE COUNTRY/SYMPHONY IN C at Royal Opera House
A mixed bill of true contrasts is served up by the Royal Ballet for the last run of performances of the 18/19 season. From the tempestuous Firebird set to Igor Stravinsky's seminal score, Ashton's quaint and quietly heartbreaking A Month in the Country, to the bold and technically exposing masterclass of Balanchine's Symphony in C.
Mikhail Fokhine's The Firebird premiered in Paris in 1910 based on Russian folklore and myth but the plot is secondary in this 45 minute whirlwind, a fever-dream of a ballet that can essentially be boiled down to a good defeating evil. It features undoubtedly unique designs despite it's obvious dating as a piece.
Yasmine Naghdi makes a confident debut; she is flighty and lively in the title role with stern, steely eyes. She handles the ferocious physicality of the early moments with grace, her demeanour only shifting towards something approaching tenderness upon meeting Edward Watson's Ivan Tsarevich. Her interpretation is detailed and dignified, with stylised flicks of her hand and arms.
When Watson's character of Tsarevich's falls in love with one of 13 enchanted princesses trapped in a garden, he decides to confront the immortal Kostchei (Gary Avis) to get her released. Avis is a vision here in full villainous regalia, his look completed with delicious gold talons hanging off his hands that he uses liberally to poke his loyal followers.
The final showdown sees the stage filled with colour, countless dancers fill the stage in extravagantly designed costumes to mark the coronation of Tsarevich. It's not your typical ballet fair, it certainly doesn't all make sense but it's a spectacle to be seen.
Based on the Turgenev play, A Month in the Country is a pleasant breeze after the comparatively abstract Firebird. Set to a delicate score by Fryderyk Chopin, an opulent set designed by Julia Trevelyan Oman and a small cast, this is an intimate ballet, packed with the complexities surrounding a single family's relationship.
It follows a rural Russian family thrown into disarray by the arrival of an all too handsome tutor for their son. Fortunately it's also danced exquisitely too, with a conveyor belt of glorious solos and pas de deux to tell the story.
Marianela Nunez (adding another fine debut to an evening overflowing with them) effortlessly inhibits the spirit of central character, Natalia Petrovna. Her interpretation is packed with detail and nuance. Her regal manor disintegrates before us as she falls for the Matthew Ball's Beliaev, a hopeful young tutor. She is initially aloof, a fixed smile masking her profound boredom with country life.
Ball is a textbook gentleman, all softly brooding masculinity. He fills the role competently, if not as remarkably as Nunez does. In this brief 50 minute ballet, his sudden vulnerability in the final scenes does not translate as naturally as it could.
Spritely James Hay is scene stealing and fleet of foot as Petrovna's son Kolia, while Francesca Hayward is spectacularly needy and brattish as Vera. Together the pair demonstrate a wonderful flair for Ashton's choreography.
From the entanglement and fragility of human relationships to the sharp precision of Balachine's fiendish Symphony in C.
Replacing an injured Natalia Osipova at the last minute, Fumi Kaneko is bright and charismatic in the first movement of Bizet's vigorous score. Petite Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell work well together in the bouncy third, while Hayward and Hay return in the fourth movement to cleanly round off this neo-classical masterclass.
The Firebird triple bill runs at the Royal Opera House until June 14.
Image: Tristram Kenton