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Royal Ballet

'Mayerling'

by Ana Abad-Carles

May 7, 2007 -- Royal Opera House, London, UK

“Mayerling” has seen several revivals in the last few years by the Royal Ballet and the ballet has established itself as a classic within the company’s repertoire. One always welcomes the chance to see new dancers leaving their imprint on the ballet and this year there were two new dancers making their debut as Prince Rudolf: Martin Harvey and Edward Watson. I saw the latter’s performance and, a welcome debut it certainly was!

“Mayerling” is one of those ballets that requires several viewings in order to made total sense of the complex storyline. For those watching the ballet for the first time, the plot must look rather chaotic and it is up to the programme notes and to the outstanding performances of all its interpreters to make the ballet an enjoyable and coherent piece of theatre. In the performance I saw, the interpreters really shone in all their roles and Watson must be grateful to all his female partners for making his character evolve through the story from a childish Prince to a man consumed with despair.

During the first act, Watson did show promise, but could not master either the technique or the characterisation. His solos were too muddled and their phrasing left much to be desired. A lot of work must be put in this act in order to make the dancer’s performance brilliant from beginning to end.

His partners soon started focusing his character, especially Sarah Lamb, who played Countess Marie Larisch with such wisdom and clarity that it was hard to take your eyes off her. Technically she mastered all the acrobatics in her pas de deux, but most importantly, she nuanced every step beautifully and the impact this woman should have made on a young and confused man was clear. Her characterisation was logically developed throughout the ballet and it propelled Watson’s Rudolf technically as well as psychologically.

Iohna Loots as Princess Stephanie in the bedroom pas de deux that ends the first act was also excellent and her performance was well phrased and in keeping with the original creator of the role. Her sheer terror and confusion and yet, her desire to comply with the desires of a madman came across most strongly.

Cindy Jourdain as Empress Elisabeth had the cold beauty and detachment needed for the role, but more work needs to be put into the troubled relationship she has with her son. Their pas de deux should be the catalyst for the pas de deux that follows it, that is the above-mentioned duet between Rudolf and his newly-wedded wife. Otherwise, it is difficult to understand what happened in the corridor to this simple, childish young man that causes him to behave the way he does.

“Mayerling” is so complex in its structure that it relies on the dramatic qualities of its cast more than any other ballet I have ever seen. These should be carefully knitted and interlaced, as it is the psychology of the characters that drives the ballet forward, rather than the choreographic transitions.

Mary Vetsera was played by Mara Galeazzi and, once again, she played her character beautifully. Her compulsive behaviour was clearly defined from the moment Countess Larisch announces that her fate is bound to Rudolf’s.

Watson returned to the stage in the second act to show a much more grounded character that slowly but surely allowed himself toself destruct. His final act was simply breathtaking. His moral and physical decay was so clearly portrayed that it was difficult not to feel sad for this man who seemed unable to take any sort of control over his life. Watson’s elongated lines were beautifully used in helping to lend this character his extreme mental distortion.

Most characters played their roles wholeheartedly. Laura Morera as Mitzi Caspar and Steve McRae as Bratfisch merit mention. Their roles, though not long, managed once again to set the pace and mood for the events to unfold.

It was a most promising performance and one that makes one hopeful about the way the company can still come together to bring to life a work as difficult as MacMillan’s “Mayerling”.

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