Royal Opera House, London, UK
April 25-28, 2001
The Royal Ballet's Stravinsky triple bill in April was well packaged and showed off the company at its best. "The Firebird", the opening ballet, with the original designs by Natalia Gontcharova, is more authentic than the Kirov's version shown last summer. The final tableau of the wedding, especially, with all its imperial splendour set to the climax of Stravinsky's sumptuous score is a glorious feast for the eye as well as for the ear.
The Royal Ballet danced it well in this revival, though there was more resonance in the Kirov's performances. (The Kirov will dance "Firebird" again in London this summer.) The first-cast Firebird was Leanne Benjamin who had a dazzling jump and the right exotic look for the ballerina role. However, Miyako Yoshida in the second cast was more moving in her acting. Her jumps were also gorgeous, and her arm movements were sparkling. Jonathan Cope danced Ivan with the proper weight and dignity.
The third work, "Les Noces", also has scenery by Natalia Gontcharova. This work is not easy to like, due to the harshness of Nijinska's choreography which has deliberately stripped out any romantic flavour. The robotic ensemble movements for the villagers have a militaristic aggression. However the finale when the bride and groom leave the proceedings and retreat to the bedroom is very heart-stirring. In the second cast Genesia Rosato was a moving bride, while Maurice Vodegel-Matzen had a notable presence as the bridegroom.
Balanchine's masterpiece, "Agon", has a perfect symmetry and logicality in the choreography which is a marvel. It first entered into the Royal Ballet's repertory in the early 1970s under Kenneth MacMillan's directorship and has subsequently been revived a number of times. Both casts got the full measure of Balanchine's choreography, though of course they couldn't be expected to match some of the stylistic niceties that the New York City Ballet alone can manage (or perhaps "could" manage when Balanchine was still alive). In the first cast Johan Persson was witty in the first pas de trois, though Marianela Nunez in the second pas de trois lacked the incisiveness of Jaimie Tapper in the first cast.
The great pas de deux was danced in the second cast by Christina Arestis and Johannes Stepanek from the lower ranks whom I actually preferred to the first cast. Arestis had more volume in her turn-out and was more exciting than the rather bland Zenaida Yanowsky. Johannes Stepanek was a handsome cavlier, though perhaps he had less flair than Carlos Acosta. Overall the Royal Ballet illuminated this Balanchine work with excellent performances.
It is really a pity that the Royal Ballet was not allowed by the Balanchine Trust to have this "Agon" filmed by the BBC together with the other two Stravinsky works. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House provided excellent accompaniment under the baton of John Carewe.
Edited by Marie.