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Alexandra

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Tobi Tobias reviews the Royal Ballet's mixed bill in her ArtsJournal blog:

ASHTON CELEBRATION #5

The centerpiece of the Royal Ballet’s mixed repertory program for the Ashton Celebration was a quartet of pas de deux presented back to back on a bare stage.  The content varied just a little from one evening to the next and the casting varied a lot, so that a goodly number of the company’s principals had an opportunity to win New York’s hearts and minds. 

Programming clusters of brief dances—pièces d’occasion that have survived their original occasion and excerpts plucked from more expansive contexts—is a time-honored way of attracting the general public to the ballet and pleasing fans who are more fascinated by star performers than they are by choreography.  I succumbed myself, decades ago, to the Bolshoi Ballet’s “Highlights” programs (did they really play the old Madison Square Garden or am I making this up?).  What I know for sure is that it was in that downscale context that, as an adolescent ripe for indelible impressions, I saw Galina Ulanova dance the Fokine chestnut known as The Dying Swan  and became a devotee for life of what her simple soul-driven performance represented.  The theory behind such tapas programming is that the responsibility of appealing to a spectator is better distributed among a variety of dances in a given time slot than riskily confined to a single one.  Today, American Ballet Theatre peddles its mixed-repertory programs with a similar tactic.

Once I had seen a lot of ballet, I came to prefer, vastly, more substantial dances and material preserved within its original context.  Still, the Royal’s “Divertissements,” as the company called the one-duet-after-another segment it sandwiched between Scènes de Ballet and Marguerite and Armand offered welcome delights as well as revelations about the dancers it showcased and the company’s overall choices about the manner in which it dances.

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Jennifer Dunning reviews the Ashton Celebration in today's NY TImes:

With Jitters Gone, an Ashton Feast

Ashton has a gift for pas de deux that shimmered with love, the emotion partly realized in the ways his men gently assist the women in airborne travel, often close to the ground and so more quietly magical. That was the case here, with Thiago Soares a model partner. The corners have been smoothed off Ms. Bussell, once a very American-seeming ballerina in her forthright classicism. Everything is in the upper body here, and Ms. Bussell moved like pouring cream, luxuriating in every last drop of her deep bends forward in dancing that communicated Ashton's rapture with surprising profundity.

The 1948 ``Scènes de Ballet'' might strike the casual observer as more Balanchine than Ashton. The ballet was in part Ashton's response to its Stravinsky score. But the choreographic discordancies are witty and Ashton just shed the buoyancy that is a key to his ballets, even in the firmly rooted geometric configurations and quadrant legs that distinguish ``Scènes de Ballet.''

The play of that buoyancy and a weightedness that is sadly missing in today's dancing were evident from the start here, in the opening arms of a firmly planted Johan Kobborg, the new male lead, and in the dancing throughout of the fine male demisoloists (Bennet Gartside, Martin Harvey, Valeri Hristov and Thomas Whitehead). Alina Cojocaru, the new female lead, supplied the wit and delicate detail in dancing whose lightness and musical phrasing were a revelation.

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Leigh Witchel writes on the Royal's mixed bill, and especially on Scenes de ballet, for DanceView Times:

Scenes and Variations: Ashton’s Chic Beauty

“In an epoch as somber as ours, luxury must be defended inch by inch.” Those words are Christian Dior’s, the creator of 1947’s “New Look” that brought rich fabrics and lowered hemlines back to a world renewing itself in peace. With the end of World War II, Sadler’s Wells Ballet moved to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, reopening it in 1946 with their epochal "Sleeping Beauty." Ashton’s hymn to spring and peace, "Symphonic Variations," came a few months later. By 1948 he too could defend luxury and chic with his New Look in ballet. And like Dior, he built solidly on the Old Look.

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I wish I'd been able to go up for this....sigh.

Thank you so much, everyone, for your reviews!!!

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In the Star Ledger, Robert Johnson reviews Lincoln Center's Ashton Festival.

Civilization is not innate. Ashton, more than anyone else, if not alone, brought dance culture to the English following the revelations of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. This summer's Lincoln Center Festival confirmed Ashton's genius, while offering a new generation of theater-goers the chance to acquire some treasure for themselves. Those who availed themselves are entitled to feel smug.

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Susan Reiter reviews the second cast of "Cinderella" for DanceView Times:

"Cinderella" at the matinee

Coming to the Saturday matinee of "Cinderella" still bathed in the glow from the exceptional first-night performance, one inevitably experienced a certain degree of letdown. The theater was far less well filled, and the audience was not dominated by the intensely devoted and knowledgeable balletomanes who were out in force on Friday evening. The glamour quotient of having Anthony Dowell and Wayne Sleep as the stepsisters was also absent, and the incredibly high standard set by the opening cast—particularly by the technical refinement, ease and grace with which Alina Cojocaru performed the title role—made disappointment almost inevitable.

But if the performance never rose to the same heights, it did offer a good opportunity to evaluate the beauty and mastery of Ashton's ballet as a whole. For someone like myself, whose most recent "Cinderella" experiences had been the incredibly wan and tedious Ben Stevenson production that ABT performs, the wonders that Ashton has wrought from the tale are numerous. There is the delightful balance he maintains between the comic ungainliness and often music hall-style capers of the stepsisters, who get an extensive chunk of stage time to themselves right at the start of act one, before the heroine has a chance to register—and the shimmering, pure world of Cinderella and her entourage of fairies and stars along with (later) the prince. Prokofiev helps Ashton, of course, providing sections of the score that have a dark, bitter flavor, often with an undertone of turbulence, as well as lyrical, richly harmonious contrasting sections

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Mary Cargill reviews the third cast, and final night, of the Ashton Celebration for DanceView Times:

A Ballet for All Seasons

The final performance of the Lincoln Center Festival’s all too brief Ashton festival was, to coin a phrase, an alloyed success. Ashton’s choreography was the real star, serenely classical yet intriguingly modern, very much in the manner of “Scènes de Ballet”. Indeed, the twelve stars with their sharp, flicky arms (softened by the dancers’ gracious épaulement) and miraculous formation (how on earth did Ashton combine twelve girls in so many different ways?) looked like cousins of "Scènes’" miraculous corps.

.....

The Cinderella, Tamara Rojo, has amazing gifts: a perfectly classical body, and a beautiful face. She is centered, strong, and not at all flashy. She was a bit too playful in the first act, dancing with the broom as if it were a toy, and not a longed for, imaginary partner. She could also have projected a bit more warmth in the ballroom scene; she certainly didn’t need to grin, but she could have used her large, dark eyes a bit more expressively. Perhaps she thought her dancing was expressive enough, and it almost was.

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DanceView Times has added performance and dress rehearsal shots from the first week's performances to the reviews. We took down the preview shots and put up new ones. So if you're interested, go to the Reviews Index and check the first five reviews. We hope to have the second week's up later this week.

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More reviews of the Royal Ballet's Cinderella:

There was a time when the Ashton "Cinderella" was the most glorious version of Prokofiev's ballet score. Nowadays the Royal dances it unevenly, with a gap in technique between the soloists and the principals.

At the production's New York premiere on Friday night, Alina Cojocaru dazzled with her perfect fluency, so radiant that pathos seemed beyond this Cinderella's happy disposition. She was partnered by Johan Kobborg, a noble prince. On Saturday afternoon Leanne Benjamin gave the most nuanced and dramatically expressive performance. Her prince was Viacheslav Samodurov, familiar from the Kirov and a gallant cavalier with precision in his dancing. On Saturday night Tamara Rojo's strongly danced Cinderella was the most lyrical, partnered by Iñaki Urlezaga, sometimes off form but always ardent.

Befitting its title, Britain's Royal Ballet has a few crown jewels in its realm. And one of the very brightest is wunderkind ballerina Alina Cojocaru.

Cojocaru, who just turned 23, has had a meteoric rise, becoming a principal dancer just two years after joining the Royal Ballet in 1999. In that short time, she's developed a reputation as "the next big thing" in ballet.

She solidified that reputation over the weekend, dazzling New York audiences in a role that's tailor-made for her in more ways than one: Cinderella.

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Tobi Tobias reviews of Ashton's "Cinderella" for her ArtsJournal blog:

Cinderella

The Royal Ballet concluded the Lincoln Center Festival’s Ashton Celebration—an event that demands an encore—by offering irresistible entertainment:  three performances of the choreographer’s 1948 Cinderella, set to Prokofiev’s evocative score.  The first of them, featuring Alina Cojocaru in the title role, was one of the most intense (and innocent) experiences I’ve had in a lifetime of ballet-going.  This ballet is like a perfect children’s book:  simple in its means; fluid in imagination; rich in delights that appeal to the eye and echo in the heart; charged with incontrovertible morality.

Yes, morality.  Consider this:  Cinderella’s saga, so gratifying at the personal level—virtue, much put upon, finally reaping its just rewards of ravishing costume, sleek vehicle, and loving prince—has a larger dimension.  It illustrates the triumph of order over chaos.  The ballet opens with a scene of domestic discord—the physical and emotional cacophony engendered by the chronic ill will of the Ugly Sisters.  The stepsisters’ physical homeliness, which verges on the grotesque, reflects the impulses—envy, vanity, and greed, among other of the Seven Deadlies—that dominate their lives and spoil the daily existence of everyone under their roof, from family down to servants and tradespeople.  While the Ugly Sisters create clamor, Cinderella and her father represent harmony and peace.  The ballet ends—not with a grand thousand-watt pas de deux, but on a gentle preview of the perfect accord that will prevail in the household of Cinderella and her prince.

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Joan Acocella writes about Ashton in the New Yorker:

Life Steps

The two giants of twentieth-century ballet, Frederick Ashton and George Balanchine, were both born in 1904. And so, early this month, we were no sooner getting over New York City Ballet’s Balanchine centennial than the Lincoln Center Festival brought us a two-week Ashton Celebration, with four companies—England’s Royal Ballet, the Birmingham Royal Ballet, the K-Ballet of Tokyo, and the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago—performing eleven ballets, plus assorted pas de deux. One would like to be judicious about these shows, and say who danced better than who, and so forth. But Ashton, after his death in 1988, tended to drop out of repertory—a situation that is only now reversing. Therefore, one was just so happy to see his rich, deep ballets again, night after night, that it was hard to get into a judging mood. Even bad things looked good.

In a sense, Ashton’s work is the apotheosis of the normal. To start with, most of his ballets are story ballets, pieces that show us our lives and tell us that we can understand them. Often, the subject is a family or a group of friends—people who have a shared world and work to protect it. At the end of “Cinderella,” the piece that capped the Lincoln Center series, Cinderella’s wicked stepsisters aren’t just sent packing. They apologize; they’re sorry they were mean. Cinderella kisses them and forgives them. A note of charity pervades many Ashton ballets, as does charity’s frequent partner melancholy. To that combination add wit—Ashton was the funniest choreographer who ever lived—and restraint, and you have a fine bouquet of English traits, above all, the traits of the English novel, from Jane Austen down through Penelope Fitzgerald. Like those writers, Ashton used this equipment to unearth feelings that we barely knew we had but which, once he showed them to us, we realized we’d been living on our whole lives.

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In New York magazine, Laura Shapiro reviews Lincoln Center's Ashton Celebration.

Ashton’s home and greatest instrument for 50 years was the Royal Ballet, but in recent decades much of his repertoire has been falling into disrepair while the Royal moves toward a more generically European style and outlook. The company is still powerfully associated with Ashton and took pride of place at the festival, but judging from these performances it seems clear that the heart and soul of his legacy was best represented by another company: the Birmingham Royal Ballet, formerly the Royal’s secondary organization, which presented some of the series’ most fascinating and challenging works.

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