If you look at the ballets revived during Mason's directorship you will find that she restored a significant number of Ashton's works to the active repertory. Having restored Sylvia to its original three act form she ensured that it was seen during several seasons. Although we got to see a wider range of Ashton works than we did during Dowell's directorship not all of it was well danced.Both Ashton and MacMillan controlled the quality of the performances of their ballets by deciding who appeared in them Today the company management makes most, if not all, of the casting decisions. It is probably fair to assume that on occasion the need to keep the principal dancers happy by giving them roles that they would like to dance outweighs artistic considerations.
The revival of Birthday Offering in Mason's final season seemed to be a prime example of what can go wrong when you cast dancers according to their position in the company rather than their suitability for particular roles .Rojo was given the Fonteyn role in one cast and Nunez in the other. Rojo was very stiff and gave the impression that she was counting throughout rather than listening to the music and as a result the choreography did not look particularly good;whereas when Nunez danced, it made the impact that it should. The majority of the dancers made heavy weather of their variations.It might have been better not to have revived it because the revival did few of the dancers any favours.An intriguing alternative would have been to select Nunez and some of the younger members of the company for the second cast. I do not think that that would have been possible but it would have been a great improvement on what we saw..The lower ranks of the company have, for the main part, been trained at the RBS if only for a short time. The younger dancers might have had a better idea of the style and would almost certainly have listened to their coaches.
But just as you begin to despair something happens at a performance and your hope is restored,at least in part. That something was the appearance last February for a single Saturday matinee performance of James Hay and Francesca Hayward in Rhapsody. Ashton's Rhapsody is probably the most unlikely ballet for a debut at an early stage in a dancer's career and to put two relatively inexperienced dancers on in it seemed a little rash even to those who had seen the pair in other roles. While it may be true that Hay was dancing far closer to the edge of his technical ability than either McRae or Zucchetti had been,his dancing was elegant and seemed effortless. Francesca Hayward brought lyricism, natural musicality and bright, clean footwork to the Collier role.It would be nice to think that we might see it revived in the 2015-2016 season with this cast but,as the company does not take its role as custodian of the Ashton repertory seriously,it seems unlikely.
The problem for the Ashton repertory is that, apart from ballets like the Dream and Month,it is not performed with any degree of frequency. The rights to Ashton's ballets are held by a number people who have varying levels of interest in the revival of the works that they own while MacMillan's ballets are owned by a single individual who is active in promoting them. Although the company needs to develop its dancers it is now run by a team who seem to have little or no interest in using works such as Les Patineurs and Les Rendezvous as a means of developing its dancers. As dancers are more likely to see exemplary performances of MacMillan's works than they are of Ashton's his works continue to be performed at a consistently high level while the standard of performance of Ashton's works is far more variable.