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The Royal Ballet

Triple Bill: 'Serenade,' 'Rushes,' 'Homage to the Queen'

by Ana Abad-Carles

14 May 2008 -- Royal Opera House, London

The Royal Ballet’s programme opened with George Balanchine’s masterpiece “Serenade”. The company, especially in the opening section, looked really good and the soloists were really impressive. Marianela Nuñez, Lauren Cuthbertson and Mara Galeazzi danced with an assurance and freedom that is at times rare to see in Royal Ballet dancers when performing Balanchine. Though the corps at times lost synchronization, especially in the third section of the ballet, overall the piece was made justice and it was wonderful to be able to just enjoy the beauty of the score through Balanchine’s vision and understanding.

It was in the last section, the most puzzling and beautiful of the piece, that I missed a bit more passion and sympathy. Granted, there is no story as such, but there is a quality, a mood in that piece that is difficult not to grasp, and adding a bit of mystery to it can’t do much harm. Still, the closing moments with Nuñez leading the way into that glimpse of eternity was breathtaking.  Credit is due to the staging by Patricia Neary from the Balanchine Trust for this excellent rendering of the ballet.

The second ballet of the evening was a new work by choreographer Kim Brandstrup, “Rushes, Fragments of a Lost Story”, apparently based on Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot”, though personally, I would have never guessed… There was nothing new in the choreography and I felt that, as a narrative ballet, it failed to tell the story in any coherent way. The snapshots of narrative offered presented nothing but the usual stereotypes of simple man-bitchy woman against simple man-suffering woman. There is nothing wrong with this, if only the choreographer had added some dimension or layers to this eternal and a bit unrealistic triangle.

Unfortunately, Brandstrup fails to do so and the result is a ballet that, though beautifully crafted in its use of film and scenery, does not present any new ideas in terms of characterisation or choreography. Not even the use of the corps de ballet adds any new dimensions to the stories. Alina Cojocaru, Laura Morera and Carlos Acosta played the leading roles and, though they tried to make something of them, unfortunately the resources left at their disposal were scarce. There is more mystery, sadness and magic in the closing section of “Serenade” than in Brandstrup’s whole work. It is about depth -- about layering a story with the music... The interesting point is that there is no story in “Serenade” and yet there seemed to be one in “Rushes”. That Balanchine, in spite of the romantic tutus, can appear more novel in his use of resources when staging a dramatic idea than a choreographer working 70 years later is food for thought about the state of the art.

The evening finished with “Homage to the Queen”, a good experiment in providing a platform to established choreographers to nourish creativity and leave an imprint on an old and almost lost work. Though the results were at the time of the premiere uneven, but far from disappointing, the present revival suffered from very poor interpretations, especially from the corps de ballet in almost all the sections.

The soloists were better, though at times their dancing seemed a bit uninspired. Sarah Lamb, Eric Underwood and Kenta Kura made the most of their choreography (“Fire”, by Christopher Wheeldon) and danced with sensuality and aplomb. Tamara Rojo as the Queen of Air started off well, then seemed to lose her interest, but luckily regained it in her performance of the main pas de deux, which is beautiful to this day and shows what a wonderful choreographer Ashton was and how much we are going to miss next season when only one of his works is going to be in the repertoire!!

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