The Royal Ballet’s celebration of Frederick Ashton is a delicious treat. It shows different sides of the company founder and choreographer, from chic to chic Scenes from the ballet to the love drama of A month in the country. And the dancers take on his challenges with joy.
founded in 1948, Scenes from the ballet is a classic set piece with a pinch of New Look glamour: the corps de ballet wears pearl collars with their tutus. Fascinated by geometry, Ashton weaves his dancers into brilliant, sharp-edged patterns. Heads nod, bodies plunge and movement races through a group of dancers in a rippling wave. The ballerina roll has an air of mystery, her arms floating and curling like perfumed smoke. Sarah Lamb dances with radiant presence and an expansive upper body. As her partner, Vadim Muntagirov is confident and elegant.
A month in the country, from 1976, shows the explosive effect of a handsome tutor in a 19th-century Russian household. Marianela Nuñez plays Natalia Petrovna, a confident married woman whose life is turned upside down by passion. Dancing with Matthew Ball’s tutor, they all have flapping feet and luxurious arms, floating in abandon as he picks her up. Ball is alert and spontaneous.
The whole cast is strong. As Natalia’s ward, Vera, Anna Rose O’Sullivan oozes youthful energy: she’s in her radiant footwork and nuanced torso. She turns to Ball like a flower following the sun before collapsing with anger and jealousy. There’s a lived warmth to the scene as Gary Avis, as Natalia’s old friend and established admirer, realizes she’s fallen head over heels in love with someone else. Casting adults as children is tricky, but Luca Acri brings boy Kolya to life without being sappy.
rhapsody, created for the Queen Mother’s birthday in 1980, returns for the anniversary year. In his debut in the bravura leading role, Marcelino Sambé combines bold power with airy gestures. He skids through the swirling jumps, flips mid-air and finishes with a dismissive shrug. Francesca Hayward shines in the role of the ballerina, from the alert attitude of her head to her fingertips. She has a radiant ease in the swaying, twisting curves and brilliant musical timing.
There is an appealing ease to corporate performance throughout this program. Ashton helped create the Royal Ballet’s identity – but over the years it hasn’t kept its legacy consistently bright. This time, the dancers look happy at home, dancing with confidence and pride.
Until May 2nd. www.roh.org.uk
https://www.independent.co.uk/independentpremium/culture/royal-ballet-review-opera-house-b2064315.html The Royal Ballet Review: This celebration by Frederick Ashton is a delicious treat