Posted 14 November 2004 - 12:07 AM
Saturday, November 13, matinee and evening
“Scènes de Ballet” (Ashton/Stravinsky)
“Daphnis and Chloë” (Ashton/Ravel)
“Scènes de Ballet” now joins the list of ballets I would happily cross an ocean for. I’ve now seen it five times; I don’t think I could ever tire of it. It’s a delicious vol-au-vent of a ballet; like puff pastry it has countless layers but still seems lighter than air. This set of performances I watched the steps less and the port de bras more. There are many times when the female or male corps seems to be working in unison but (with the women) one or two or (with the men) they are all in different poses. It gives the ballet a sense at times of being a series of tableaux speeded up and presented too fast for the eye to consciously register.
It’s apparent by glancing at André Beaurepaire’s viaduct at the back just how different the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House is than the Royal: The scenery needed to be extended by at least one branch in New York. The compression on the London stage is a good effect; it adds to the atmosphere. This could be the American in me, but in the same way, so was the slight push to the tempo.
The matinee cast was less senior than the evening cast. Yohei Sasaki, a First Soloist who had danced one of the four male demi-soloist parts made his debut in the lead partering Jaimie Tapper. The performance had more precision than scent; “Scènes” is a ballet that requires precision and can handle that sort of performance, but it could use a whiff of perfume as well.
Tapper is an athletic dancer, another sunny can-do girl. The can-do attitude got her in trouble at some points; it seemed her partnered pirouettes went awry because she tried to fix them herself instead of letting her partner do it. Sasaki is well schooled, but not that warm a performer. The four men in the corps were all First Artists; in New York this summer the management took no chances and cast more senior men. This cast (Kenta Kura, Ernst Meisner, Johannes Stepanek, Andrej Uspenski) acquitted itself very well; at the evening performance, Kura stepped into the senior cast as a substitution for Bennet Gartside and looked fine among them.
Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg led the evening cast. In her yellow tutu, Cojocaru was very much the golden girl. She’s interesting in the part by her sheer facility, but a bit too light. All her extensions tend to flick out to their height; there’s no resistance and it makes her look like she takes up no space. Kobborg did a fine job; he’s demi-caractère in a role originally created on Michael Somes, but somehow even the costume, a short-sleeved tunic in some ways cut like worker’s outfit, seems to allow for that possibility. He also did a series of sissonnes that switch legs to land better than anyone else I had seen; his trick was to use the landing of the first leg to slow down the momentum for the second leg so it didn’t land with a thud.
The divertissements presented several tidbits we saw in New York (the Awakening pas from “Sleeping Beauty”, “Thaïs” and “Voices of Spring”) with some tasty acquisitions. The Royal got “Five Brahms Waltzes” for Tamara Rojo (Iñaki Urlezaga whom she danced with in New York is on family leave in Argentina; thank heavens they did not saddle her with doing the final, unexceprtable, three minutes of “Ondine” again) and Frederic Franklin set the pas de deux and male variation from “Devil’s Holiday”.
We got to see a tremendous array of the company in this section at either Principal or First Soloist level. Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope took the matinee performance of the “Sleeping Beauty” pas for a disjointed performance. Bussell was in and out; Cope’s just not in shape to do this right now. Tapper danced the evening with Federico Bonelli; her sunny directness doesn’t work here. I saw her do a lovely Terpsichore five years ago in Toronto; her approach may be more suited to the Balanchine repertory.
The matinee performance of “Thaïs” was our first glimpse during the week of Sarah Lamb in a solo role, and it was auspicious. Newly imported from Boston Ballet, Lamb has Russian coaching and grooming. It works in Thaïs, though it changes the role to a bittersweet cousin of Nikiya. Lamb drew the movement out into long arcs punctuated with moments of stillness. It’s part of her presence, and she’s got that to spare. She threw herself into the part; her kiss of Bonelli at the apex of the ballet was as passionate a stage kiss as I have seen. The audience took to her warmly. In the evening, Mara Galeazzi also did a fine job; Thiago Soares (who joined the company in ’02 and is already a First Soloist) has the advantage over Bonelli in manly pectoral muscles; Anthony Dowell’s costume seems to be all about masculine décolletage.
“Devils Holiday” is titillating in excerpts, in spite of or possibly because they still leave the plot of the surrounding ballet completely opaque. It’s not summarized in the Royal’s souvenir program, so I will be left to see if I can find Denby’s contemporaneous review of it when I get home. The male variation reminds one a little bit of Balanchine’s in “Divertimento from Baiser de la Fée” especially in atmosphere. There’s a section in both where the man drops to his knees in a circle, but in the Ashton he does it not by kneeling, but by knuckling over both feet slowly. Martin Harvey was very impressive in the matinee cast, but he’s been impressive in character roles all week. In the same way, I’ve not completely warmed to Viacheslav Samodurov, who took the evening performance, yet. During the Kirov visit to New York he did a 1000-watt “Rubies” with Diana Vishneva. But the repertory this week seems to require characterization and acting that are not his specialty. He’s giving us virtuoso performances of the steps instead. Laura Morera joined Harvey, Isabel McKeekan Samodurov for the pas de deux. Again, it’s difficult to place in context, but Laura Morera and Harvey seemed to give us more period flavor. In her gown with her large face, Morera reminded me a bit of pictures I had seen of Markova in Les Rendezvous. Franklin is in town; it’s a joy to see him join the cast at the end for bravos from the audience.
I’m not sure about the blowsy Isadora wig they have Rojo wear in “Five Brahms Waltzes”; it really doesn’t suit her. She gave a powerful performance – perhaps too powerfully Amazonian. I’m not sure that’s the impression we want to take away from Duncan Waltzes: Bacchante, sure, but Amazon? The lighting at the matinee was too bright at the beginning to provide any atmosphere; it seems they had adjusted by the evening.
Galeazzi and Samodurov did “Voices of Spring” at the matinee. Galeazzi gave a joyous performance, better than her outing in New York. Leanne Benjamin took the role in the evening with Carlos Acosta and she had the advantage of having a Human Crane for a partner. Acosta seems to revel in one-arm lifts and Benjamin is tiny. The smile on her face at the end seemed to indicate her pleasure.
It will take me time to come to “Daphnis and Chloë” but that’s less the fault of the ballet than sheer fatigue on my part. It’s a new ballet at the end of a very long week, and the impressionist composers are the hardest for my ears to parse for dance. To me, the ballet pushes Ashton’s pastoral instincts as far as they go – even farther than “La Fille Mal Gardée”. Even with a pirate abduction, the ballet still feels like an hour-long idyll. That’s as much the soft rolling textures of the Ravel music as anything else. Also oddly, though the ballet is in one act, it’s really three scenes presented with only interruption for changes, and is structured like a three-act ballet.
Cojocaru and Bonelli did the matinee, Miyako Yoshida and Edward Watson the evening cast. It’s our first close look during the week at both Watson and Yoshida. Watson is the only one who has to fight his casting. He’s a long-limbed dancer with difficulty fitting himself into classical port-de-bras, and it really shows when he leads group dances. He’s also a fine actor, and like Zenaida Yanowsky, probably presents a challenge in casting.
Other notes – I’m glad that Yoshida dispensed with the Dangerous Flower Ritual that seemed endemic this week at the Royal. Yoshida’s bouquet was small enough to carry; when it isn’t, the ballerina leaves the damn things in a heap in the middle of the stage so that people have to glance nervously backwards when returning from bows to avoid tripping.
For ticket buyers. The view at the front of the amphitheatre is quite good, but the acoustics are very live. Things you can’t hear in other parts of the house; footfalls and even breathing onstage can be heard very audibly here.
A final note at the end: I think my only regret about this week is, though I’m a even more familiar with Ashton’s choreography than I was at the start of the week; I’m no closer to an understanding of Ashtonian dancing style. The company is filled with international dancers and it’s not being cast; perhaps it doesn’t even exist in the company any more. It’s not that the performances are bad, but there is no dancer or dance I can point to and say, “I think that’s how Ashton envisioned it.” Eventually, that’s impossible with every choreographer, but Ashton is not so far off that we need to lose that veracity so soon.
And so ends the week – back to America tonight!