|Birthday Offering/A Month in the Country/Les Noces, Royal Ballet, review|
|Written by news desk - telegraph.co.ukm|
Sarah Crompton reviews Monica Mason's penultimate triple bill at the Royal Ballet.
If you type in Birthday Offering on Google, a four-minute film of Frederick Ashton coaching Fonteyn and Nureyev appears on YouTube; type in A Month in the Country, and with a bit of searching you can find Lynn Seymour and Anthony Dowell, the creators of the roles of married Natalia Petrovna and dashing tutor Beliaev in the choreographer’s adaptation of Turgenev.
This was what I did after I had seen the Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill, Monica Mason’s penultimate piece of programming in her role as director, and a tribute to the company’s founder choreographer. What I had watched on stage had been pretty good but what I saw on film had a different kind of delicacy, which many of today’s dancers, however skilled they are, seem to lack.
At least Tamara Rojo understands how to place her head, and let movement flow smoothly through her upper body, so that each phrase becomes a lyrical continuation of the one before. She was luminously lovely in the Fonteyn role in Birthday Offering, a show-off piece made for the compnay’s 25th birthday and brushed off for celebrations ever since. But of the rest of the ballerinas, in their subtly glamorous long tutus designed by André Levasseur, only Laura Morera (all direction-changing jumps, and coquettish flourish) and the elegant Sarah Lamb really seemed to understand the neo-classical grandeur of Ashton’s filigree concoction.
When the work was originally staged, it was a way of revealing the company’s strength in depth: for a true celebration of the dancing Mason has fostered, it would have been fitting to see Marianela Nuñez and Alina Cojocaru in the graceful line of ballerinas, attended by their cavaliers, an image that reminds you of the majesty Ashton was capable of.
A Month in the Country is even better, a masterly haiku, which compresses all the emotion of a long, wordy play, into 40 minutes of glorious dance. The way Ashton conjures entire characters in the bumbling husband’s frantic search for his keys is just a delight. But the strength of the worklies in the thwarted passion between Petrovna and Beliaev,shown in a pas de deux which is so expressive in its details that thought seems to be embodied. At the performance I saw Zenaida Yanowsky seemed too large in emotion for the subtleties of the part, more desperate housewife than frustrated wife, and Rupert Pennefather too bland as the tutor. But Emma Maguire dazzled as the young ward, understanding both the light sharpness of the steps and the emotions they conveyed.
The programme ends with a bold revival of Nijinska’s Les Noces. Created in 1923 for the Ballets Russes, it still looks radical, shocking somehow in its depiction of a bride with long braided hair sent off for marriage, in ritualistic scenes of resignation, sacrifice and group fervour. Everything about it is nigh on perfect, from Stravinsky’s strange, haunting score, to Natalia Goncharova’s stylised brown and white designs, to its impassioned and disciplined performance here.