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Mayerling 28 September Osipova Watson

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Was there last night and finally was able to see Osipova in a full ballet.

By chance sat at same table with Hanna Weibye of Artsdesk at intervals who

rushed off after the performance to post her review, the only one online so far :



I reserve my comments (posted further down) This was Osipova's debut in role, full casting :



Telegraph has now posted a review :



Here's a picture gallery :



(+) A notable review by Judith Mackrell in Guardian :



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Yes, you are right--it was Osipova's debut. I would be interested in hearing your impressions of the performance if you have the time/inclination. This is something I very much wish I could have seen.



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33 minutes ago, JMcN said:

On the whole, I think the more important character is Rudolf!


For sure :) -- but I don't think anyone is suggesting otherwise. When I saw the ballet way back when, I remember-all the same-being very excited to see the new young ballerina dancing Vetsera that "everyone" was talking about...Alessandra Ferri.


An acquaintance traveling Europe recently contacted me to ask if she should try to get to London to see the Royal dance Mayerling (her dates would permit her to see two casts, the one led by Watson/Osipova and the other by McRae/Lamb.). I'm wary of spending other people's money, but told her if I were able to see those performances, I most certainly would!

Edited by Drew
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37 minutes ago, Drew said:


For sure :) -- but I don't think anyone is suggesting otherwise. When I saw the ballet way back when, I remember-all the same-being very excited to see the new young ballerina dancing Vetsera that "everyone" was talking about...Alessandra Ferri.




The most exciting thing for me would have been seeing Edward Watson as Rudolf.  I had the good fortune to see him at the last revival and he was truly exceptional.


This time I am going to a convenient matinee (combining a few days in London for American in Paris (mainly to watch some favourite ex-BRB dancers) and Northern Ballet's awesome new Casanova.  I will be seeing Thiago Soares' cast.  If I had had the opportunity to choose a cast to see I would choose the dancer performing Rudolf rather than any of the ladies (although they are also important).  I chose to see Soares this time because he got such wonderful reviews last time.

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12 hours ago, JMcN said:

PS - Do you mean 28th April 2017?


Yes this past Friday eve, the premiere with Osipova debuting in role. As Hanna Weibye posted on Artsdesk there were

10 principals on stage, as star-studded a cast as one will ever get. Now I will post my own take on the work and this

performance, hoping our seasoned membership will ascribe it to "chacun a son gout".

First the work :  I firmly believe "ballet" must be able to tell a story (hopefully a timeless and universal story which can

be readily picked up by anyone on any continent) through dance only, and one would not have to memorise the

synopsis, go to a couple of pre-performance lectures or "insights", and have to watch the performance looking at

the castsheet and synopsis every now and then. Mayerling with its particular, non-universal story and plethora of

characters which do not allow instant identification regarding who-is-who (putting on surtitles identifying who Rudolf

is dancing with whenever he picks up a new partner would be helpful :D) is a thousand miles away from this. Does

anyone have to read the synopsis to pick up the story of Giselle, Bayadere, R&J or Don Q ??  Manon in my view is

less confusing, R&J most suitable for ballet but Lavrovsky got there first and Macmillan's is what we call in marketing

parlance a "me too" product, period ! I will overlook the similarity of the ensemble scenes and steps between Mayer-

ling, Manon and R&J  as this could be ascribed to Macmillan's style (Grigarovich has similarities in ensemble scenes).

This was the first time I saw Watson and thought his characterisation was excellent. However, my companion for the

evening (a ballet guru) was telling me about the "evil" character of Rudolf but I saw no evil Rudolf on stage. Watson's

characterisation came across to me as a weak and deluded person who was incapable of sustaining the pressure of

the rank he was born into, rather than someone bent on doing evil. As such, I found his characterisation excellent.

Now, my beloved Natasha : this was my third attempt in 2+ years to see her live. I flew over in Jan 15 to see her as

Kitri and on the night got Tsygankova instead. Last year in Feb I flew in to see her as Giselle and on the night got

Sarah Lamb. This time I caught Natasha all right but I would rather have seen her as Kitri, Giselle or Juliet. I do not

think Vetsera will be one of Osipova's signature roles : after the performance I kept thinking would anything have

changed if Lamb had danced Vetsera and Osipova Larisch ...... I don't think so. When Lamb replaced Osipova last

year as Giselle I discovered that (esp. in the second act) she is excellent technically, but to me she was not "Giselle"

in the first act, the way Osipova becomes the character, so the second act was a "spectacle" rather that the "spiritual"

experience it can be .....  Osipova really shines as Kitri, Giselle, Juliet and even Lise (FMG is not my fav work) but did

she shine as Vetsera ? (re characterisation, for me it is always characterisation first, excellent technique on top would

make it unforgettable). As I said, I do not expect this to be one of her signature roles. The Royal Ballet keep casting

her in silly "contemporary" stuff and are wasting the best years of Natasha's career. Pure commercialism !


So, some members may think I have betrayed my ignorance, poor taste, judgment, in any permutation thereof, but

I signed up to post what I think, and if I were to take a defensive stance it would be a waste of your time and mine.


PS :  forgot to mention the music : imho totally unmemorable, another minus point. Manon is also a "pastiche" but

in my view the music is infinitely better. Ballet music really has to be tuneful and memorable.

Edited by mnacenani
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I suppose we are back to the age old issue of what a dancer may want to dance and what the dancer wants to dance.  I was under the (probably mistaken) impression that she joined the RB to expand her repertoire beyond the classics she is known for.  Certainly her own shows give the impression that she is interested in different dance styles.  I think the role of Mary Vetsara is much coveted amongst dancers.  


I know many people who are not very keen on Mayerling for the same reasons that you have stated.  I wouldn't say it was a favourite of mine either but I was totally bound up in the performance I saw with Edward Watson last time around.  I haven't felt there was anything "evil" about Rudolf's character more that he suffers from the weight of expectation and being brought up in such a rigid society.  For me that goes a long way to explaining his actions.


For what it's worth I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on Mayerling.

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2 hours ago, Natalia said:

Edward Watson's Prince Rudolf was filmed for DVD during an earlier run, as JMcN may be aware:




Dear Natalia I just finished watching this performance recorded in October 2009, with Watson-Galeazzi. With the scene cues page

of the booklet in hand to identify who is who ! Sarah Lamb is Larisch and McRae Bratfisch, and incidentally Polunin is one of the

Hungarian officers. My Moscow tutor Vita texted that she had seen Polunin as Rudolf (probably at Stasik last year) and thought

he was excellent in role. Now : drink, drugs, sex, freaking out ...... I do believe Sergey would be excellent in this role and I would

someday love to see Sergey and Natasha in Mayerling.

There is a still earlier RB recording with Mukhamedov-Durante filmed in February 1994 which I will watch next. Larisch is Collier

and Mitzi is Bussell, and on this Adam Cooper is one of the Hungarian officers !  I will put up with this to reach a final conclusion

on the merits of Mayerling, since two ballet people whose opinion I value think Mayerling is a good work but may not reveal its

beauty at first sight .....

Edited by mnacenani
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Mnacenani I think that all the titles which you cite as having universal appeal and thus ideal for staging as ballets are concerned with thwarted love a theme which MacMillan wanted to move away from as he felt it was far too conventional and limited the development of the art form. In a television documentary which can still be found on the internet MacMillan talks about the creation of Mayerling and his wish to abandon the subject matter and conventions of the traditional ballet with a ballerina at its centre and a narrative of thwarted love. It would appear that he was influenced in his approach to ballet making by the French ballets he saw in the immediate post war period. Although he does not name him I suspect that MacMillan is referring to the influence on his narrative ballets of Roland Petit. Thus while his contemporaries writing for the British theatre  in the 1950's and 1960's were engaged in abandoning the conventions of the "well made play" as unsuited to the material which they wanted to present on stage MacMillan was on a similar quest for ballet, looking for greater realism, a wider range of narrative and pushing at the boundaries of the art form.


Whether or not you think that abandoning the conventions of the "well made ballet" based on  nineteenth century models in a search for greater psychological realism paid off and was successful depends very much on your response to MacMillan's three major full length narrative works. As our response to the works of individual choreographers is the product of our experience of watching ballet and dance works and our expectations are formed by that experience our response to individual ballets will vary and not everyone will find that Macmillan's choreography with its mixture of classroom steps and expressionist movement is to their taste. But whatever your response to them, it is clear that dancers want to perform the meaty roles in Manon and Mayerling and the paying public enjoys them sufficiently to buy tickets to see performances of them. It seems to me that the fact that these ballets are revived on a triennial basis is testimony to their continuing popularity with audiences and dancers alike and that perhaps MacMillan got something right when he made them..


As far as Mayerling is concerned there is no fixed rule about how the role of Rudolph has to be interpreted. The three dancers who appeared as Rudolph in the first season gave very different but very persuasive accounts of the role .As I recall it David Wall, the role's creator, played Rudolph in a way which made the audience feel some sympathy for the character and his sufferings while Jefferies played him far less sympathetically. From his first appearance on stage Jefferies' Rudolph was already in deep trouble emotionally and clearly "mad bad and dangerous to know". MacMillan's full length ballets  leave room for the individual dancer's interpretation of a role. Romeo and Juliet probably provides the widest range of options in performance as it works equally well as pure dance,Sibley and Dowell's approach or as dance drama, the approach of Seymour on whom Juliet was created, and the approach favoured by most dancers today. And yes the choreography for the corps in Romeo and Juliet is dull, repetitive and rather boring. As this is a common feature in all of MacMillan's full length narrative ballets it suggests to me that he was not that interested in the "spear carriers" and did not expect the audience to be that interested in them or their choreography either.


Perhaps both Grigorovitch and MacMillan  share at least one thing in common as choreographers creating dance dramas the shared belief that divertisements are out of place in such ballets and that if the main characters are to carry the story they need to be in the foreground with the "supers" kept in the background and never given anything to dance that might distract from the main characters and the dramatic action of the ballet.  


So far the current revival has given the audience four varied interpretations of the role. On Friday Watson gave the audience a  distraught unbalanced and potentially very dangerous Rudolph who is already clearly disintegrating physically and emotionally as the ballet opens with a fine supporting cast.Since the ballet was originally prepared with great care and considerable thought was given to which characters were essential to the narrative in what was the equivalent of a film scenario treatment by Gillian Freeman I think that we need to accept that there are no superfluous characters in it. Thus each of the women with whom we see him interact and dance tell us more about him. It is the nature of their interaction with him that counts rather than their names. I will simply say that all the women who appeared in the Watson cast were excellent. Yanowsky was a wonderfully glacial Empress;Hayward a terrified Stephanie; Lamb a slippery, manipulative Larisch; Nunez made Caspar an essential character; and Osipova was outstandingly good as Vetsera. Campbell restored the role of Bratfisch to the status of an essential character while Avis was a compelling Bay Middleton and the Hungarian Officers forever lurking in the curtains during scene changes included a number of dancers who look set for bigger, better things in the near future. 


Saturday afternoon gave the audience Bonelli's Rudolph who is almost too well balanced to make the action of the entire ballet seem possible or credible when the ballet opens. The opening of course gives Bonelli's Rudolph further to fall. We saw his disintegration begin in the final scene of the first act.His scenes with Morera were compelling and the action of the final scenes of the ballet make it clear that the suicide pact is a total folie a deux. 


When I watched Soares account of the first solo I wondered yet again  how he can still be a principal dancer as his dancing seems so ragged and under powered. But when he began the first pas de deux he made it all look so easy and as the ballet progressed the dancers playing the women in his life seem to have more time and more space in which to perform their roles and the freedom of performance which only comes with a truly great partner and the effect is so compelling and Soares' acting is so good that I forgot what an ordeal the initial solo had been. By then it had become an essential part of his Rudolph.His Vetsera Cuthbertson is excellent in what was a long promised debut in the role.


Bank Holiday Monday and I was back in the theatre to see McRae as Rudolph with Lamb as his Vetsera a cast which I had doubts about when I booked as McRae can find it difficult to submerge himself in the character he is playing and stop being "Steven McRae the great technician".In the end I bought a ticket because the early May Bank Holiday afternoon is usually cold and damp rather than with a great sense of enthusiasm for the prospective performance. A friend who had attended the open rehearsal and is far from being a McRae fan told me how impressed she had been by his performance of Rudolph which she described as "one of the best danced accounts of the role she had seen in years." All I can say is that she was not exaggerating. McRae danced the choreography with such clarity and precision that he restored subtle details which other Rudolph's have seemingly ignored or glossed over for years. While I think that McRae's decision to play the tavern scene as if he was tipsy was a mistake the rest of his performance was outstanding and thrilling as a first attempt. Lamb can be very variable in performance  and whether she is stunning or merely technically sound depends very much on who is partnering her.On Friday night she had been an excellent, slippery, manipulative Larisch to Watson's Rudolph what was her Vetsera going to be like?. Some of Lamb's  best performances to date have been with Pennefather who helped reveal all sorts of detail in her performances in roles as varied as the Sylph and Manon. It would seem that  dancing with McRae has the same effect on her.Her Vetsera has clearly been well schooled by Larisch, she knows what will intrigue and excite Rudolph and during the initial section of their first pas de deux she seems to be gauging the effect that she is having on him.All in all a performance which I am glad that I attended. 


You almost seem to be suggesting that the company should be programming works which are part of  Osipova's standard repertory and yet would not that defeat the object of the exercise as far as she is concerned and disrupt the development of the younger members of the company of which she is now a member? When it was announced that Osipova was joining the Royal Ballet I think that we were given the impression that she wished to have an opportunity to spread her wings and  dance roles that she might not be given at the Bolshoi where, as I understand it, the rules of emploi are still applied quite rigorously. Surely suggesting that she should be dancing roles like Kitri  for example puts her back in the emploi straight jacket from which she was trying to escape?  I think that we have to assume that Osipova is appearing in works she wishes to dance in rather than being forced to do so.Far from being a mistake to cast her in the role of Vetsera it would appear that even the exceptionally hard to please critic Clement Crisp was impressed by her performance as he has gone so far as to describe her as the best in the role since Seymour herself and you cannot  hope for higher praise than being compared favourably with one of the greatest dance actresses of the last century.


I have to say that I have not been that impressed by some of the more recent creations Osipova has danced in particularly those which have been part of the independent programmes in which she has appeared. As far as the Royal's repertory is concerned I do not think it likely that she is being cast in modern creations in order to sell tickets. I think it far more likely that she dancing in works in which she wishes to appear and that she wants to have works made on her as well as appearing in the company's wide ranging standard repertory.


Mnacenani I should be interested to know which pieces you would describe as "silly contemporary works" to see whether they are similar to mine. I will start with Wheeldon's "Strapless" which Kevin O'Hare has said needs some tweaking where I should have thought that radical  surgery was required with no guarantee of success. If it had not been announced as a co-production with the Bolshoi the kindest thing would have been to put it out of its misery.


I do not know whether you have had a look at the schedule for the 2017-18 season but Giselle and Manon are being revived in 2018  and we are to have a new production of Swan Lake at the end of the season.

Edited by Ashton Fan
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Dear Ashton Fan thank you so much for this post - I really appreciate the time and thought you have

devoted to it, and it has been of great interest to me. Yes - I would like to see Osipova in her signature

classic roles rather than McGregor or Wheeldon stuff. I will certainly try to see her as Giselle and Manon,

as Odette/Odile maybe - SL is not my favourite ballet. I would love to see her as Juliet : I am interested in

ballet as drama. And I will not hide the fact that I have been afraid she would slide back in London, not

having to keep up with the likes of Zaharova, Smirnova, Alexandrova or Krysanova. I know my likes

are quite subjective and biased, as I have become quite addicted to Russian classical ballet. It's a diffe-

rent world there.

Re Wheeldon : I have not seen Strapless but had read the reviews - if I remember correctly Ismene Brown

had posted a devastating one. Where I live I watch ballet on Mezzo almost every evening, tried to watch

Alice in Wonderland to educate myself but could only take less than one hour of it, if you will excuse my

saying so.

I wish I had seen a second cast of Mayerling while I was there, like you did, to be able to judge the charac-

terisation of different dancers - I do like studying characterisation.

You did not comment on Mayerling's music : on a scale of ten I give it say two. I believe I have a good ear

for music but cannot remember any tune from the score. Film music, but even that is more tuneful most of

the time. Don't know whether this was also intentional or not.

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I think that John Lanchbury did an excellent job for MacMillan in finding music that would work in the context of the ballet which the choreographer was creating. MacMillan sent a copy of Gillian Freeman's treatment of the narrative and his timings to Lanchbury in Australia so that he knew the action that the music was required to accompany and its duration. In return Lanchbury selected and supplied not only the music requested but additional music for each section, should it be needed, and suggestions for cuts should they be required.


It can't be easy to find enough pre-existing music by an individual composer. even one as prolific as Liszt which can be stitched together in such a way that it furnishes a suitable score for a full length ballet like Mayerling. The score does its job and I don't think that it is reasonable to expect much more of it.  You will be surprised by how much of the score sticks after you have seen the ballet a couple of times.While I understand what you say about the score I think that its"film music" quality is connected to Liszt's popularity with audiences and his influence on composers which continued well into the twentieth century. I think that a lot of composers who turned their hand to composing film music were influenced by him or at least recognized that the mass audience found music written in his style both accessible and attractive. 


You really should try to watch the South Bank Show documentary about the making of Mayerling. If you do you will find from extracts of performances by the original cast that Wall danced the role with great clarity and finesse. I have no doubt that Polunin was splendid as Rudolph because of the clarity of his dancing combined with his skills as an actor. If you watch the documentary you will see that Wall acts every scene as much as he dances them but that his acting is essential to his performance rather than being used to cover technical inadequacies Rudolph is a dancing role and not really one that is best suited to a dancer whose technique has begun to fray at the edges and is forced to fall back on his partnering skills and resort to emoting to carry the day. Soares gets away with it but seeing the role " danced" is a totally different experience The review of Polunin's performance singles out Rudolph's first solo  for special comment. It is as dependent on silky smooth transitions and weight adjustment as is De Grieux's first solo in Manon. I can't help thinking that Rudolph's initial solo must have been made on Dowell as MacMillan originally intended to make the ballet on him and worked on the ballet with Dowell for a couple of weeks before he withdrew and was replaced by Wall. Like everything else created on Dowell lesser mortals have to find their way to do justice to choreography made to display his unique qualities, even when it is only a small section of a much longer ballet.


You said that you gave up watching Alice part way through which is a pity because the most entertaining sections are in the second half.I don't think that Alice is a great work. It is more of an entertainment than a ballet but the staging and special effects are impressive and the way in which the Cheshire cat is staged is both inventive and amusing and really captures the spirit of the text. The best bits of the ballet/ entertainment are in the second part so perhaps you should give it another try. My problem with the work is that Wheeldon is not a good enough butcher and the result is that he found himself  staging elements of the story which do not work in balletic terms.Some of the choreography seems to be there in order to give individual dancers something to do rather than to reveal more about their character or to move the narrative on. The White Rabbit's solo is a case in point, it seems to be there because Wheeldon has suddenly remembered that he has got Ed Watson in the cast and that he needs to give him some choreography to dance. Again the pas de deux at the end of the ballet seems to come out of nowhere.There appears to be no narrative reason for it except that we are now at the end of the ballet and the audience expects to see a pas de deux to round off the performance. Perhaps with more performances, which we will get next season, one of the younger dancers will transform the work completely and the final pas de deux will suddenly seem to be there for a narrative reason rather than to act as a full stop.It could happen.It has taken other narrative works several seasons to really run in and for roles to be developed to their full potential.


Having moaned about the weaknesses of Wheeldon's Alice there are bits that work really well in theatrical terms. It is as if towards the end of the work he was suddenly inspired  or perhaps the truth is that when we get to the sequence for the corps as playing cards and the scenes which involve the Queen of Hearts, the reluctant hedgehogs and the send up of the Rose Adagio we have arrived at the incidents which he actually wanted to stage.


 I went to the performance of Alice at which Francesca Hayward made her debut in the title role and because I left it rather late to buy a ticket I found myself sitting among a group of Russian ballet goers from St Petersburg who sat stony faced through the first part of the ballet but came back for the second half which they found very funny, including the send up of the Rose Adagio. The problem for me is that unlike a ballet by Ashton or MacMillan  the choreography does not feel as if it is the only way in which the story could be told.The movement and its relationship to the music does not feel inevitable. But Alice was Wheeldon's  first narrative work and I have to say that Hayward managed to make the the ballet work far more effectively than other dancers have managed to do so far.


Perhaps the answer is that a new dance work which brings families to the theatre is a good thing in itself as it may lead to an interest in the art form. But somehow I can't help thinking that children deserve to see really good choreography when they see their first ballet and that rather than a work which only works intermittently, regular revivals of Coppelia, Ashton's Cinderella and Fille with performances scheduled during school holidays and at weekends  would be a much better way of developing the next generation of ballet goers. 










Edited by Ashton Fan
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