Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Ballo and Sylphide

Ballo della Regina/ La Sylphide, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – reviewed on 26th May
The Royal Ballet in Ballo della Regina
Photo: Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH
Fiendishly difficult choreography and the joyous music of Guiseppe Verde (from opera Don Carlos) combine in the sublime Ballo della Regina. George Balanchine’s 1978 work is ideally suited to the Royal Ballet and their performance effervesces. Yuhui Choe hovers in the air and Beatriz Stix-Brunell exudes warmth and radiance. But it is leads Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish who make this ballet really sparkle. They perform the choreography with such ease, for a moment I think I could do it. Even Nuñez’s jumps onto pointe are serenely effortless. Ballo is simply a joy from start to finish; it’s as close to abstract ballet perfection as you’re likely to get.

The double bill is completed by Romantic ballet La Sylphide. Despite its age, the theme of whether to conform or seek something more magical remains universal. Steven McRae is an ideal James, who must decide between a conventional wife and the beguiling charms of sylph Roberta Marquez.  His dramatic passion and bewilderment are as powerful as his scissor-like feet that cut through the knotty choreography. Marquez is a tempting sylph; unearthly in movement but playful in spirit.

The programme is a feast of vivacity, desire and superb technique.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Prince Insight

Insight evening: The Prince of the Pagodas, Clore Studio @ ROH – reviewed on 23rd May

The Prince of the Pagodas was first choreographed in 1957 by John Cranko. Kenneth MacMillan created another version in 1989 with Darcey Bussell taking the lead role to critical acclaim.

Barry Wordsworth, Music Director of the Royal Ballet, described Benjamin Britten’s Prince score as full of “joie de vivre” and a “kaleidoscope of emotions and contrasts”. Chairman of the Britten Estate, Colin Matthews, stated: “Britten was used to writing for opera. Here he was free of the need to balance the music with vocalists so the score is full of life and energy.”

For the Royal Ballet’s 2012 production, the music has been revised, with changes in the running order and some cuts, designed to make the story clearer. Wordsworth stated “it’s nothing like the cuts that were made to Swan Lake to make it good!”

Wordsworth then highlighted the ways in which Britten was able to build a character through music, with Robert Clark playing extracts on the piano. For example, there are four variations for four kings and each shows a different personality; the King of the East’s music is exotic and moody.

Marianela Nunez and Nehemiah Kish in Prince of the Pagodas
Photo: Johan Persson, courtesy of ROH
Britten found it particularly difficult to write Act 2, but a trip to Bali inspired him. He created a version of Indonesian Gamelan music (which heavily features tuned percussion) using Western instruments.

Jonathan Cope then rehearsed Ryoichi Hirano and Beatriz Stix-Brunell in the Act 3 pas de deux, a duet involving enormous lifts and difficult musical timing. Cope himself danced the Prince in MacMillan’s version of the ballet. He loved using classical shapes but putting a twist on them with unusual grips and positioning. It was very difficult then, but dancers find it easy now as they are so used to performing in different styles. Cope especially enjoyed dancing the salamander solo as it involves a lot of floor work, which makes it more interesting that most other Prince roles. In his coaching, the most important thing for Cope is to allow dancers to find their own personalities in the choreography, so that the ballet develops over time.

The Royal Ballet’s new production premieres on 2nd June at the Royal Opera House with Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish taking the lead roles.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Ballo Rehearsal

Insight evening: Ballo Della Regina, Linbury Studio Theatre @ ROH – reviewed on 10th May

Another fascinating insight evening took place last week at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre. Principal dancers Marianela Nuñez and Nehemiah Kish rehearsed Balanchine’s 1978 Ballo della Regina under the watchful eye of original cast member Merill Ashley.

Across solos and duets, dancers were repeatedly reminded to use their back muscles to hold the choreography’s twisted poses and maintain strength during rapid footwork. Ballo is also full of sudden changes of direction, moments of surprise and off-balance positions which Ashley was keen to highlight to dancers.

Marianela Nunez and Nehemiah Kish in Ballo della Regina
Photo: Bill Cooper
Nuñez showed her perfectionism, stating that her performance of one solo was “rubbish” and repeating it multiple times in a quest for mastery. It looked (even to my rather critical eye) gorgeous from the outset, but Ashley encouraged Nuñez not to anticipate the music but to respond instead, and to ensure each arm movement dynamic was clear.
Kish’s solos were well-polished but a lifted neckline gave jumps a freer, more joyful feeling. Ashley also reminded Kish of the importance of using the metatarsals to ensure soft, well-controlled landings.

In the pas de deux, Ashley asked Nuñez to look at the audience instead of to the sky, as if “saying a prayer: I hope this goes well!” She also aided the couple with timing, advising which sections should be speeded up and which slowed down.

This was a proper working rehearsal where dancers really endeavoured to improve their performance of Balanchine’s choreography and the observing audience was virtually forgotten. It was another enticing and inspiring glimpse into the life of the hard-working dancers of the Royal Ballet.