BWW Review: THE CUNNING LITTLE VIXEN/THE TWO PIGEONS, Royal Opera House
In a rare piece of programming from the Royal Opera House, audiences have the opportunity, for a limited run, to watch the Royal Ballet School's talent of tomorrow and the main company's talent of today together in a mixed programme of animal-based stories.
It features new work from Artist in Residence Liam Scarlett and Frederick Ashton's popular Two Pigeons, seen previously this year alongside Scarlett's Asphodel Meadows. The former First Artist certainly seems to be making his mark on the company repertoire.
The Cunning Little Vixen is an inoffensive 40-minute ballet to Leoš Janácek's score told efficiently, with just enough dashes of humour and surprise. It's well paced, giving the large cast all a substantial role, and the costuming is colourful and attractive, but I found that overall this harmless woodland tale was just a bit too twee for my taste.
The talented dancers, some of whom will be 18 and soon to join a working company, could cope with more sophisticated content, but still, they attack Scarlett's material with relish and enthusiasm.
Madison Bailey offers an assured and expressive performance as the titular Vixen, spirited in her escape from the Gamekeeper's dog, and sensitive in her sweetly choreographed meeting with her handsome Fox suitor, Liam Boswell.
The stage is filled with a vibrant array of woodland life, including badgers, rabbits, dragonflies and Daichi Ikarashi's especially nimble-footed frog making for some charming moments. As to be expected, the result is not quite as impactful as work from the main company, but the storytelling is lucid and enjoyable.
Members of the Upper School are joined by the Lower School for the ensemble roles, such as the amusing chickens with their feathered sleeves and long legs in yellow tights, and later as the Vixen and Fox's boisterous, mischievous offspring, adding further intrigue.
It's vivid and joyful, but the Royal Ballet School should have more confidence in their students and programme work that is not so consciously a "children's story".
The bill is completed with a debut for Principal Yasmine Naghdi as the Young Girl in Ashton's Two Pigeons. There is no questioning her portrayal as a spoilt and brattish individual devoid of charm and she is often very funny, perhaps not so much in her timings as in her manner. She's not as likeable as Lauren Cuthbertson's portrayal seen last month, and Naghdi's facial expressions could be even more exaggerated, but it's still a solid and engaging effort.
Alexander Campbell's hapless Young Man appears driven to distraction by Naghdi and her friend's antics, and his eye is caught by Fumi Kaneko's alluring Gypsy Girl. Kaneko brings a beautiful femininity to the role; she is graceful, elegant and never as disruptive as her character could be, but she wins over her Young Man with her girlish charm rather than through being overtly flirtatious.
Pigeons is a ballet of two halves, where the first act does 90% of the storytelling. It makes for an overlong second act where not a lot happens at the raucous gypsy camp, leaving the audience waiting for the two lovers to reunite.
It's always a reunion worth waiting for, however, as our two white pigeons glide onto the stage, perching on a chair (they are disappointingly well behaved on press night - they sometimes venture, unplanned, into the orchestra pit), completing this sentimental night out just in time for Valentine's Day.
Image Credit: Tristram Kenton