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Royal Ballet

Celebrating Diaghilev

by Cassandra

May 15, 2004 -- Royal Opera House, London

With the anniversaries of the births this year of Balanchine and Ashton both being celebrated in style, the Royal Ballet is also acknowledging the seventy-five years since the death of Serge Diaghilev (only pointe pioneer Marie Taglioni, born 200 years ago misses out in the memorial junketing stakes).

Of the many Diaghilev-era works danced by the Royal Ballet over the years, two of the ballets chosen for this programme are actually recent additions, “Le Spectre de la Rose” and “L’après d’un Faune” having notched up a mere four and eleven performances respectively. Both works are relatively short and both rely almost solely on creating an atmosphere. Both are roles forever associated with Nijinsky.

In “Spectre de la Rose” Viacheslav Samodurov had the unenviable task of convincing us he was the spirit of the rose given as a gift to a young girl after her first ball. In an ugly costume of hideous pink, he had an uphill struggle, and Mara Galeazzi looked far too sophisticated to persuade us that she was a naïve debutante wilting with the excitement of dancing with a man for the first time. Almost immediately after its premiere this ballet was considered so pure a vehicle for its creators, Karsavina and Nijinsky, that it shouldn’t be revived without them. Some ninety odd years later, I’m inclined to agree.

“L’après d’un Faune”, though, is another matter. Considered by many to be the world’s first modern ballet, it remains quite unique in style and totally unlike anything else. The Leon Bakst backcloth of sun-baked Mediterranean scenery instantly transports us to the hot summer afternoon frozen in time where that languid faune lies playing his flute.

Perhaps it’s due to his darker skin tone, but I’ve never seen anyone look as good in the faune’s costume as Carlos Acosta. He steps out of his camouflage background like a fabulous mythical creature, almost far too glamorous to be a humble faune. By rights the nymphs should be more dazzled than frightened by him. It seems a shame he has to console himself with just a scarf.

Blessed by one of the loveliest scores for a ballet ever written, “Daphnis and Chloe” has a timeless beauty that effortlessly blends the world of Greek myth with a contemporary setting. Try as I might, though, I can’t really remember who I’ve seen dance the part of Chloe in the past, except for one dancer – Fonteyn. She has etched herself so indelibly into my memory in this role that I can close my eyes and recall her every step.

The Chloe I saw was Miyako Yoshida who dances as a sweet and innocent young girl who can’t quite believe the evil intentions that rob her of her freedom. As Daphnis, Federico Bonelli dances gracefully with his crook, but encounters one hell of a temptation in the form of the highly seductive Laura Morera as an outstanding Lykanion. As sleaze-ball Dorkon, Martin Harvey danced rather too well; I don’t remember such precision in the past. Shouldn’t this character be more of a clodhopper? I adore the finale of this ballet as the scarf waving dancers throw their arms to the sky in their dance of undiluted joy in front of the wine-dark sea. Bliss.

The final work of the programme was Nijinska’s “Les Noces”, a Royal Ballet staple for close on forty years. After the shambles of the Kirov ’s attempts at this work last summer, it was a relief to watch this ballet danced the way it should be. They didn’t put a foot wrong. This was the company dancing at it’s best. We all went home happy.


Edited by Holly Messitt

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