BWW Review: CONCERTO/ENIGMA VARIATIONS/RAYMONDA ACT III, Royal Opera House
The first mixed bill of the season sees the Royal Ballet celebrate a diverse cross-section of 1960s productions - from the clean and tightly choreographed Concerto, to the luscious opulence of Raymonda Act III (so commonly seen as a standalone piece). The two are separated by some picture-perfect Ashtonian charm with Enigma Variations.
An additional joy of such a comprehensive bill is that it also provides an opportunity to enjoy so much of the company. Kenneth MacMillan's Concerto sees the stage flooded with autumnal colour. The corps are a little untidy in yellow and burgundy, but Anna Rose O'Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé make light, bright work of the first exhausting movement, while the company find their feet with the timing.
The second movement sees a serene shift, with Lauren Cuthbertson demonstrating composure and control with choreography inspired by a ballerina's barre exercises, whilst Reece Clarke offers sturdy support. By the time the third movement arrives, the corps have found their rhythm with the bounding jumps and jetés. Fumi Kaneko leads the action in signature charismatic and musical style.
It's a stark contrast with Ashton's Enigma Variations - a portrait of Edward Elgar's inner circle of friends. There is tweed, pipes and jaunty gents who ride a tricycle amongst the great detail in Julia Trevelyan Oman's Edwardian designs.
The central trio of Elgar (Christopher Saunders), his wife (Laura Morera) and his friend Jaeger (Bennet Gartside) share a tender bond. The detail in Morera's layered performance and stoic facial expressions, which conveys much more beneath the surface, makes for a compelling watch.
The supporting characters add colour and texture too. Francesca Hayward captures a fresh and spritely youthfulness as the young lady Dora Penny. She springs through the steps, and is especially sugar sweet, with a heavy fringe bouncing on her forehead. Calvin Richardson has similarly boundless energy; he's precise with his long limbs and has a sense of comedy that raises a smile. Itziar Mendizabal delivers a beguiling later turn as Lady Mary Lygon.
A final gear change takes us to a regal Hungarian celebration for Raymonda Act III, featuring a set so sumptuous with its chandeliers and staircases it prompts spontaneous applause from the audience. The corps emerge first, glittering and stately, heel-clicking in their flat character boots and striking feather headpieces. The action then moves to a selection of gorgeous variations. Yuhui Choe is typically effortless and joyful, while the pas de quatre (Luca Acri, Cesar Corrales, James Hay and Calvin Richardson) is performed with brooding physicality and perfect timing.
This all serves as prelude to the grandeur of of Sarah Lamb (Raymonda) and Vadim Muntagirov (Jean de Brienne). Muntagirov is every inch a prince, strutting majestically between silky smooth turns. It's Lamb, however, who's the revelation here, resplendent and poised in a bejewelled tutu, with her knowing glances to the audiences as she strikes her hands together in a true tour de force performance.
Concerto/Enigma Variations/Raymonda Act III is in rep until 20 December at the Royal Opera House
Images: Tristram Kenton