Thursday, 28 February 2013

Royal Ballet mixed bills, and being ill

It occurs to me I never did a review for the ballet mixed bill I saw two weeks ago – which is shameful when I consider how terrific it was.  It was a perfectly balanced tasting menu for all that is loveliest about Ashton.  Tragically (well, perhaps it isn’t really a tragedy in the bigger scheme of things – but tragic for a balletomane) I don’t think it was filmed.  And I’ve been to another one since then.  I am getting lamentably lax over this reviewing lark... 

The Ashton bill, the first one, wasn’t really a taster menu; that’s a rotten metaphor, shame on me.  It was a feast of an evening.  

It started off with “La Valse” and a couple of marvellous party-pieces, the “Thaïs Meditation” pas de deux and “Voices of Spring”.  Then “Monotones” 1 and 2.  Then “Marguerite and Armand.”  So we had subtlety, passion, happiness, gorgeous abstract grace and finally a great tear-stained howl of extra-super-duper further passion.  Literally my only issue was with the fact that for “Monotones” the cast is dressed in what appears to be a hybrid of low-budget ‘60’s SF movie costumes and Victorian gents underwear; long-sleeved skin-tight monochrome body suits with spangled belts, and bathing hats.  If any outfit can look unflattering even on the body of a dancer (which is to say, even on some of the finest bodies around) then it’s this.

I’ve written about “La Valse” before; it’s a haunted piece, ostensibly “about” pure dance yet full of undercurrents – as if the Duchess of Richmond’s ball before Waterloo had been an Ashton work.  One fears for these frenetically leaping young men, and their tense, beautiful women.  Something’s not quite right in the atmosphere, and he captures it so subtly that you could miss it if you wanted, and just see great dance - and everything was right in the dancing.  But that aura of discomfiture and tension is what lifts it from “good” to “great”; the knowledge that there is something more, something unspoken-of and tragic, still to come as the curtain falls.

The “Thaïs” pas de deux was exquisite (& Vasko Vasiliev was playing his heart out in the pit – by damn, that melody is a gift to a fiddle player). I’m not sure what’s actually going on here – it doesn’t seem to bear much relation to “Thaïs the Opera” – so I made my own interpretation based purely on what I saw.  Which was, a handsome oriental chap (well, actually Rupert Pennefather with oriental eye-make-up) dreaming of his lost love and being visited by a vision of her; a vision which slowly seemed to become more corporeal, more powerfully there, as his memories intensified, only to slip away at the last, leaving him bereft once again.  Sarah Lamb’s coolness - slowly, slowly warming into a vision of loving grace, and then vanishing again - suited the vision-figure beautifully, and Pennefather’s characteristic look of puzzled decency is a good fit for a man dreaming of the past (indeed his expression may have provided a large element of my story-construction here). 

To jump – almost literally, of course – straight into “Voices of Spring” from this mood of melancholic evocation was delicious.  “Voices of Spring” casts its two dancers almost literally as spring personified – spring both in the sense of springiness, in the sense of the season, and in the sense of youth and freshness.  Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell bounded through it with a lovely combination of flawless polish and an air of unrehearsed youthful bounce.  She has wonderful feet and arms – I wish I knew the technical term for the way she carries her arms, so soft and yet perfectly framed, never unstructured, so that the line is always clean and pure and firm, yet completely relaxed right across the shoulders and body and all the way down to the fingertips.  And he – well, one of the newspaper critics recently called Campbell Tiggerish, and I couldn’t agree more.  

As for “Marguerite and Armand”; well, I howled my eyes out.  If that’s good, then it was good.  And that is good, in case you’re wondering.  Making me cry at the theatre is definitely good.

I didn’t see the first cast; I couldn’t get a ticket for any of Tamara Rojo’s farewell performances for love or money (okay, I didn’t actually offer my love to the nice woman at the box office, but you know what I mean).  So I had wound up being just forced to see Zenaida Yanowsky and Federico Bonelli.  He’s coming into his own as an acting dancer of late; and she, in my opinion at least, already is - one of their finest.  The ballet is a masterpiece and Ms Yanowsky, for the third time in recent months, was shatteringly good.  Happy Ims (only it was the blowing-nose and wiping-eyes-furiously kind of happiness).

Then there was another mixed bill last weekend.  A magisterial “Apollo” from Carlos Acosta, absolutely living every tiny shade of the divinity and simply being Apollo.  A delicious new piece from Alexei Ratmansky, costumed in fairy-tale silvered tulle and danced to orchestrated Chopin, like a tribute to everything that is loveliest in Jerome Robbins; and a really powerful, dark, haunted and haunting new piece by Christopher Wheeldon.  Oh, I could go on and on about these last two.  I really could.  Superb; and wonderful casts all round.  I think pretty much every one of my favourite dancers got something really shiny to do.  And every one of them shone.

I do wonder sometimes if I am turning into a burbling machine, though.  Making unstinting and enthusiastic praise sound anything other than bumptiously naieve isn’t easy.  But, oh God, I have had two great evenings at the ballet lately!

The rest of the time, I’ve been writing.

But then I woke up on Monday morning with a nasty tickly throat.  It lurked uncomfortably for two days, gradually growing until by Tuesday evening I felt as if I’d swallowed a cricket ball with bristles.  Then I started to ache, and my head began to hurt, and I started to feel sweaty and cold at the same time; and I’m now off work sick.  I’m not so ill that I can’t move about the flat, for which I'm grateful - real 'flu is almost paralysing - but I feel absolutely rotten.  Sitting up at the laptop for half an hour is about as strenuous as I’m up to.  So I’ve amended the text of this massive post, which has been growing and getting tweaked to update it for almost a fortnight.  Now I’m going to post it and then I think I'll just give up and go back to bed again.  Hope all is well with anyone who reads this, and you are not germ-ridden and miserable like me.

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