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Royal Ballet - 2005-2006 Season Preview

by Cassandra

April 2005 -- Royal Opera House, London

The one announcement that most pleased the gathered ranks of the press on Wednesday morning’s briefing to herald the Royal Ballet’s plans for the forthcoming season was the news that Monica Mason was now confirmed as the Royal Ballet’s director up to 2010. This was a surprise, as I’ve always understood that the ROH operates a strict policy of waving goodbye to even the most essential members of staff when they reach the age of 65. It says a great deal for the respect in which Mason is held by the organization, that they have waived the rules in her case. She is, I believe, perceived as a safe pair of hands and certainly she has started to introduce more balanced programming together with a noticeable improvement in performance standards within the Royal Ballet; not a great improvement it’s true, but it’s there and others have noticed it too. The warm applause from everyone present proved this was a highly popular move, as this thoughtful and articulate woman is held in great esteem by audience and professionals alike.

To go through the next season’s repertoire as announced, I was delighted at the prospect of Bournonville’s “La Sylphide” as I’ve always found it a serious omission in the Royal Ballet’s repertoire. That it will be staged by Johan Kobborg is undoubtedly a big plus, and I’ve heard on the grapevine that Kobborg is also a very good coach, too. Of course Kobborg himself will be the big draw in the role of James, but Ivan Putrov is also experienced in this role and should also prove very popular casting.

Mason is pairing "Sylphide" with both Flemming Flindt’s “The Lesson” and Ashton’s charming “Les Rendezvous”. The latter will probably be scheduled for matinees as Mason concedes that “The Lesson” may not be quite suitable for younger audiences. Casting for both these ballets is interesting, with Edward Watson alternating with Kobborg as the murderous dance teacher in “The Lesson” and Nunez and Yoshida (possibly the two dancers most in tune with the ‘Ashton style’), taking the leads in “Les Rendezvous”.

The first triple bill of the season imaginatively includes the long neglected and highly regarded “La Fete Etrange”, which Mason has fond memories of, as she danced in the ballet when she was a very young dancer. The haunting “Pierrot Lunaire” is being mounted to (very rightly) celebrate the 80th birthday of choreographer Glen Tetley. Unfortunately this bill concludes with “Marguerite and Armand”, the ballet Ashton intended for Fonteyn and Nureyev alone. What a slap in the face to his memory to even think of giving this work to other dancers against his wishes.

Two full-length works follow: “Manon” (yet again) and Ashton’s “Sylvia”. Unfortunately ill health prevented me from seeing “Sylvia” last year, so I’m delighted to get the chance to finally catch up with it in the autumn.  The second mixed bill consists of Ashton’s “La Valse”, a new work by Alistair Marriott, “My brother, My Sister’s” (very minor MacMillan in my opinion) and the beautiful “Gloria”, which is very major MacMillan. December brings us “The Nutcracker”, perhaps I should say inevitably, but with some interesting debuts: most notably Lamb and Marquez.

The New Year begins with a revival of “Giselle”. Now here’s an interesting thought: if the two act “la Sylphide” can be staged with an accompanying work, why can’t “Giselle”? In the past it has been part of a double bill, why not again?

The most attractive looking of the triple bills comes next - Balanchine’s “Ballet Imperial”, Robbins' "Afternoon of a Faun” and “The Firebird”. It will be very interesting to compare the Royal Ballet'’s performances of “Ballet Imperial” to the Kirov’s, which we will be seeing this summer. It is a ballet that the Royal has a history of struggling with, whereas the Kirov are actually rather good in their new acquisition. From the point of view of the music, this is a wonderful programme.

Next comes “Romeo and Juliet”, a ballet that is looking increasingly tired. The last time I saw it was a very unhappy experience. The work needs a total overhaul before it is seen again. I am bitterly disappointed that for two seasons we are denied MacMillan’s fascinating “Prince of the Pagodas,” which ill-fated former director Ross Stretton scheduled a couple of years back, but which was hastily replaced. Surely the ballet is more worthy of a revival than yet more Manons and Romeos?

The second new work of the season forms the centrepiece of the next triple, an as yet unnamed piece by the Canadian chorographer Matjash Mrozewski. This is preceded by Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” with MacMillan’s “Requiem” as the final Ballet.

The ever-popular “La Fille Mal Gardee” is revived in April.

Next comes a shock: Yet another new version of “The Sleeping Beauty” incredibly close on the heels of the last two productions. To me this is a profligate waste of money. True, it was a mistake to jettison the familiar “Royal Ballet” version, but the Markarova version was not without merit and with a few alterations it would have served the company well enough for the next decade at least. The Royal has had no fewer than six productions in the past forty years, the new version will be the seventh and I am amazed to discover that this will incorporate “additional designs” by Peter Farmer. Farmer was the designer responsible for the extremely short lived MacMillan production of the ballet in the 1970’s and one of the reason’s it was so disliked (more by critics than audience) was precisely because of Farmer’s designs. Some decisions are inexplicable.

The final programme of the season is made up of De Valois’s “The Rake's Progress”, some “to be announced” divertissements and the remains of Ashton’s “Homage to the Queen” with additional choreography from three other British choreographers. A device that may or may not work, I suppose. This work is chosen for revival to mark the Queen’s 80th birthday.

I am very uneasy about another “Sleeping Beauty” so soon after the last. The priority should be to replace the hideous production of “Swan Lake” that has been inflicted on us for far too long. And where is the promised new work by Angelin Prelocaj? I seem to remember that after Ross Stretton had announced an RB production of “Le Parc”, it was promptly cancelled by the new director, but with the sweetener that Prelocaj would create a new work for the company in due course. I’m still waiting.

 

Edited by Staff.

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