Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Covent Garden Christmas Classic

The Nutcracker, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – reviewed on 5th December
Photo:  Johan Persson, courtesy of ROH
The Nutcracker is such a Christmas classic that it’s almost as clichéd as minced pies and Rudolph. There are four versions on show in London alone this year but its popularity remains high. In my summer ticket-booking spree, it seemed like such a good idea to see this festive delicacy again, yet as the date approached I wondered if I could bear to endure another two hours of present-opening and Kingdom of Sweets-finding merriment. Fortunately, the Royal Opera House’s heart-warming version, filled with magic, couldn’t fail to win me over and my Scrooge-like boredom with the ballet was quickly replaced with seasonal jollity.
Set on Christmas Eve, the ballet tells the story of Clara as she is given a Nutcracker doll gift by her godfather, Drosselmeyer. During the night the Nutcracker comes to life and he and Clara are transported through the snow to a magical kingdom where sweet treats dance in their honour. Peter Wright’s production for the Royal Ballet is a traditional one, taking inspiration from the original 1892 version and adding the less common surrounding narrative that the Nutcracker is Drosselmeyer’s nephew and Clara’s love restores him to life.
Tchaikovsky’s shimmering score was played expertly by the Royal Opera House orchestra, conducted by Dominic Grier; dancers were similarly in fine form and performed the choreography with flair and vivacity. Elizabeth Harrod was a radiant and wide-eyed Clara with enough sugary goodness to carry the insubstantial storyline. Paul Kay as the Nutcracker was handsome; particularly pleasing were his barely audible jump landings.
In Act II, Laura McCulloch oozed with serene sensuality in the Arabian dance. Laura Morera was a sprightly, charming and perfectly classical Rose Fairy. As the leads, Marianela Nunez and Nehemiah Kish made a tender and regal couple. Effervescent Nunez displayed fascinating musicality; at times, her movements were stretched to the last second, at others, she rushed ahead to find unexpected moments of stillness. This brought a playfulness to the Sugar Plum Fairy which combined with Nunez’ irrepressible glow made her both a wholesome princess and sexy temptress who would encourage you to gorge too many sugar plums.
I may have seen what seems like a thousand Nutcrackers, but it never fails to put me in the Christmas mood. The Royal Ballet's version is a timeless classic and I defy anyone not to enjoy its sparkling festive delights. 

Monday, 5 December 2011

Asphodel Meadows triple bill

Asphodel Meadows/ Enigma Variations/ Gloria, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – reviewed on 30th November

The Royal Ballet’s current triple bill combines the work of up-and-coming talent Liam Scarlett with defining 20th Century British choreographers Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan.

Enigma Variations uses music created by Edward Edgar in 1898, with short sections each portraying a different one of the composer’s acquaintances. Ashton’s choreography continues this theme, with light-hearted dances for numerous characters set at Edgar’s Victorian house. But the brief snippets of personality although charming and well-performed, especially by Roberta Marquez and Edward Watson, were frustratingly under-developed. The ballet remained, to me, an enigma.

MacMillan’s 1980 work Gloria is a lament on the lives lost in World War 1. Using Poulenc’s choral music, dancers perform a series of carefully-constructed shapes with eerie ghost-like presence.  It is similar to the choreographer’s earlier Requiem, also performed by the Royal Ballet this season, but lacks its exquisite ardour and silkiness.

Scarlett’s fresh and youthful Asphodel Meadows was first performed last year to great acclaim, and in its second run was sleeker than ever with interweaving bodies moving seamlessly from complex lifts to dramatic poses. Its title refers to the Ancient Greek underworld where asphodel flowers grow as food for dead souls, but no evidence of this sombre theme is visible in the choreography. Instead Scarlett plays with Poulenc’s music, making every movement a visual representation of the capricious orchestral sound.

Marianela Nunez and Rupert Pennefather in Asphodel Meadows
Photo: Johan Persson, courtesy of ROH
From lively, playful group dances to moody, impassioned duets, the piece is captivating and intimate.  Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather were particularly enticing to watch; their fluid bodies embraced and rippled with seductive passion and sensuality. The ballet’s only flaw is in its lacklustre designs, with dowdy-coloured costumes and bizarre columns of black scenery. But Scarlett’s creation enchants. In his mid-20s, the dancer is already demanding major attention for his choreography and deservedly so. I eagerly await his next work which premieres in April 2012.