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Royal Ballet - Requiem Triple Bill

'Requiem', 'Les Noces', 'A Wedding Bouquet'

by Lyndsey Winship

October 4, 2004 -- Royal Opera House, London

In the Requiem Triple Bill, the Royal Ballet present two weighty works, MacMillan’s "Requiem" and Nijinska’s "Les Noces", and one farcical novelty, Ashton’s "A Wedding Bouquet".

The latter was completely lost on me, and the moment where Iohna Loots, playing a little girl's dog, came onstage prancing around in a tutu (so that’s a dancer dressed in a dog costume wearing a tutu, just to be clear) was, frankly, disturbing. Everyone else seemed to be enjoying it though.

Much better to concentrate on the two serious works, which showed the company on fine form. "Requiem", which MacMillan dedicated to his friend, dancer and choreographer John Cranko, is a beautifully poised work which elaborates on the sadness, resignation and transcendence of Faure’s music.

The score is sublime, sung by the Royal Opera Chorus with soloists Ha Young Lee (soprano) and John Bernays (baritone). The choir produce a textured sound while Lee’s emotional solo passages are riveting.

The stage is bare but for two tall translucent columns dwarfing the dancers. Everything is a pale, shimmering dove grey and the dancers wear silvery catsuits flashed with peacock feathers, transient colours flickering across their bodies like light playing on the surface of a lake.

This setting could be heaven, but it's more like limbo, peopled by figures placidly waiting for their next direction. The choreography is classical, but with no frills – and I mean that in the best possible way. The corps could be cast in marble, so smooth and statuesque are their movements. The principals are entrancing as they barely make an imprint on the air around them.

Tamara Rojo and Jaimie Tapper take the main female roles, Rojo in particular is effectively understated, letting the sweep and swell of the brooding score speak for her.

In the opening of "Requiem" a crowd of tightly-packed dancers shuffle onstage with tiny steps, shaking their fists at the sky. This movement could easily have been taken from Bronislava Nijinska’s "Les Noces", a work made over 50 years earlier that shook its fist as balletic conventions of the day.

"Les Noces" tells the story of a Russian peasant wedding, with the accompaniment of Stravinsky’s pounding, rhythmically complex score. This is not the happy day of "A Wedding Bouquet" but a necessary union, for the good of a family, and a community, with a dutiful sadness at its core.

Bronislava creates bold geometric shapes using her dancers as building blocks rather than individuals. Her choreography is imbued with symbolism, from the dancers’ arms forming the links of a chain, to the bride (a melancholic Zenaida Yanowsky) being tied up with her own long hair.

The fast, unison footwork is precisely navigated by the dancers, battling against that powerful, unpredictable score, and the Royal Ballet are much tighter than the Kirov were when they performed this work last year.

So, bar the trifling interlude of "A Wedding Bouquet", this was an evening of wonderful dancing and thoughtful choreography. As they say, two out of three ain’t bad.

Edited by Jeff.

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