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Royal Ballet

'Napoli Divertissements' and 'La Sylphide'

by Ana Abad-Carles

January 20, 2007 -- Royal Opera House, London

Last season, Johan Kobborg staged his version of “La Sylphide”for the Royal Ballet and this season, he has extended the programme with his staging of “Napoli Divertissements”. It is always welcome to see the dancers of the company engaged in a tradition that is not distant from their own. Bournonville steps are present in Ashton’s works as well as in the Nijinska’s ballets the company stages regularly, and these two ballets offer a vocabulary of steps that the Royal Ballet dancers will certainly utilise in other works from their national heritage.

The programme opened with “Napoli Divertissements” in a staging that incorporated some extra numbers from previous acts, besides the famous last act dances that culminate in the ravishing Tarantella. The dancers seemed to take pleasure in the work and they succeeded in making the audience do the same, which is what “Napoli” is all about. There was wonderful dancing by some of the soloists, especially Steven McRae and Marianela Núñez. These dancers conveyed a sense of style and freedom in their movements that served them well in showcasing the steps. However, all dancers seemed to be enjoying their dances and credit must be given to Kobborg for achieving this through his coaching. In terms of style, some of the dancers did not seem to grasp this totally, though their commitment to the phrasing and character more than made up for the lapses. The steps were well executed and, curiously enough, it was the men who seemed to perform these with more exuberance and used better phrasing than the women.

“La Sylphide” is a cohesive work and an obvious masterpiece of the Romantic period. The company seemed in better form than in last year’s performance, though I still have my doubts about the extended passages that Kobborg has decided to include. One of the most fascinating aspects is the wonderful sense of timing and dramatic pace that makes it move so effortlessly. It might seem that  a couple of minutes of added music, dance and drama would not affect the tempi, but the truth is that they do. Far from explaining the action, the extended musical phrases make some of the scenes drag on too long.

The title roles were danced by Sarah Lamb as the Sylph, Viacheslav Samodurov as James and Deirdre Chapman as Madge. Lamb was a beautiful Sylph. Her dancing was effortless and light, she looked like a different kind of being in relation to the rest of the company, a creature capable of disappearing at any moment. Her footwork was clear and musical, with that special ability to make the feet speak. Her jumps were fleet. Her interpretation was beautiful, especially in the very last minutes of the ballet. She truly made an exemplary character transition from true joy to utter despair. Samodurov’s dancing was excellent, though I missed more buoyancy in his character, as his James was too serious from the very first moment. Chapman must have been carefully coached by Englund, as her Madge was very much in this artist’s mould. Her depiction of sheer loathing for James was impressive. Ricardo Cervera’s played as an extremely sympatheteic character. Rather than a man taking advantage of a situation, he appeared another pawn in the grand design that Madge has planned for everyone.

The corps was in good form and in theatrically, the company was unified and responsive at all times.

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