The Royal Ballet
Ballet with a British clip
by Dean Speer
July 8-9, 2004 -- Segerstrom Hall, Orange County Performing Arts Center, Costa Mesa, California
What a treat is was to have been able to see and enjoy a ballet company of this calibre. With its rich history and tradition, they have an inner-core strength that really helps make us sit up and take notice.
While I did very much enjoy Friday night's "Giselle," the real treat for me was seeing Ashton's "Cinderella." Of the Cinderellas that I've seen, I find this one to be one of the most glorious. I think Ashton took creating this work completely seriously yet it is infused with a light-handed touch that makes it luminous. I found the ballet endearing. His assumption of the cultural referents and understanding of British pantomimes (men in women's roles, women in men's roles, stock characters) and of the humor this brings to the parts of the step-sisters, sets this ballet apart.
It's also clear that form and beauty were important to him. His idea of beauty. It's also clear that he liked the dance equivalent of music "ornamentation" and there are many instances of the use of beats and of very intricate and quick footwork. He also puts together ballet vocabulary into a syntax that is rarely seen, which makes his work distinctive, perhaps even unique. An interesting tidbit of information was passed along by the pre-performance lecturer, retired writer and dance critic of the London Evening Standard, Edward Thorpe, who reported that Ashton had asked the original cast member for the Spring Fairy how she imagined moving, and since she responded that it seemed to her that it should be in small, quick explosions, like buds bursting forth, Mr. Ashton, said in essence, “Okay, we’ll go with that!”
From the opening scene where the step-sisters are sitting sewing, bouncing up in time from their chairs to the music -- which is also timed as their needles "pass through" their fingers and up -- is a riot. We know we're in for a fun ride at the ballet. It's also fun that the opening scrim has a portrait of Prokofiev on the audience left, and one of Ashton on the right.
I also liked how clearly the drama of the story was set up, visually. From the set, we see many blank spots on the walls of the home. It's obvious that dad has been selling the silver to fund the demands of the selfish step-sisters, and if this weren't completely clear to some of us more oafish audience members, dad comes in while Cinderella is by herself and sadly climbs a ladder to reach for yet another painting to pawn. He sees Cinderella, stops what he's doing, climbs down and goes over to comfort her. They have a sweet moment until interrupted by guess who?!
The cast was terrific. Jaimie Tapper was a top-drawer rags-to-princes Cinderella. One who wasn't just sad then magically happy but one who showed real depth of character and understanding. It was most satisfying, for example, how she forgave the sisters in the end, kissing them lightly and hugging.
The men of the Royal are amazing and outstanding was our evening Prince, David Makhateli. His line, form, attack, and control were elegant. Perhaps this may be one of his first outings in this part and I think his nerves occasionally got in the way of partnering Tapper, mostly in the big ballroom pas de deux of Act II. (There seemed to be a couple of almost “oopsies” that surprised the pair, although they both recovered quickly.) He was also not originally cast in this part for this night, so I had to wonder also if they didn’t get sufficient rehearsal time to feel comfortable.
More than amazing was The Jester of Tim Matiakis. His relaxed bravura was infectious and the audience really ate up each of his choreographic assignments. Speed, control, expression, and an understanding of his character’s part were all part of the bundle.
The Fairy Spring really did explode with energy and little bursts of movement motifs that really made her appear to be spritely and “springy.” Full of joy by the experience of “June busting out all over!”
I liked the ending too. No couple riding off into the Western Sunset, but rather a couple offering a romantic position – that of love, promise, and of facing the dawn’s sunrise. Curtain.
What a wonderful ballet! I very much would like to immerse myself in this rich and glorious feast of a ballet again. Thank you Sir Fred and our elegant visitors from across the Atlantic pond.
"Giselle" is "Giselle" is "Giselle." I enjoyed this straight-forward production; I really did. The narrative was clearly stated via the dramatic action, miming, and dancing. Miyako Yoshida was very good as our heroine, one who was bright, in love, and full of joy and promise – completely without guile. As “love ‘em and leave ‘em” Albrecht, Federico Bonelli played Act I as truly with no more motive than a potential dalliance with a village maiden. His grief at Giselle’s death at the conclusion of Act I was more of one of shock and surprise and only hinted at true grief. However, his Act II Albrecht showed more remorse and depth of feeling – which is how I think this character should be played, unless you go in for the interpretation of genuinely liking and loving Giselle, right from the get-go, as I’ve seen some dancers portray. After all, if he didn’t truly care for Giselle, why else would he come to her grave? If it was merely guilt, then I’m sure a prince would have the resources and support structure to deal with it at the upper-crust level. Why risk more potential political fallout than he’s already earned by leaving the safety and sanctity of the castle?
Each star has very solid and secure technique, and it was a treat to relax as an audience member, not sweating blood for the performers, and allowing the story to sweep over us. Thiago Soares’ Hilarion was played logically as the simple villager he is. Sure he makes a bad situation worse, but I think unintentionally so. I believe he’s doing , in his own mind, what is the right thing to do: calling Romeo on his major flirting. But he goes too far, and poor Giselle’s mind, health, and life, are swept away like an arm across an old cobweb.
I love what I think of traditionally as the Peasant Pas de Deux, interpolated here as a Pas de Six, lead by the awesome Marianela Nunez and soon-to-be-a-star in his own right, Yohei Sasaki. Some creators/stagers of this ballet opt out of inserting this divertissement (music by Meyerbeer, not Adam) but I find it really adds the right mix to the overall dramatic action, giving us a “happy dance” that seems right at home in this Bavarian hamlet.
Zenaida Yanowsky, Dierdre Chapman, and Isabel McMeekan were wonderful as Act II’s Myrtha, and attendants Moyna and Zulme, respectively.
Conductor Boris Gruzin was particularly good, following the dancer and choreographic demands well, and the Orange County Pacific Symphony, sounded solid and quite good as well. A pleasure having live music of this standard.
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