Monday, 28 May 2012

A tale of two ballets

There are two ballets on offer at the Royal Opera House to celebrate The Diamond Jubilee

Written by Gillian Spickernell

Going to the Royal Opera House is always a special event. For a start there’s the buzzing atmosphere – people watching as the audience arrives for a night at the theatre, there’s the gorgeous champagne bar in the enormous, airy glass hall (on the site of the celebrated Covent Garden fruit and vegetable market), there’s the stunning red and gold décor, the glittering chandeliers and the red plush carpet.  It’s such a fantastic venue that you might easily forget what you’ve come for, but on Monday night there was no forgetting.  It was the opening of The Royal Ballet’s special programme to celebrate The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

ballet3Alina Cojocaru in La Sylphide. Photo by Johan Persson.

In an unusual combination, there were two ballets on offer– each totally different from the other.  The first, Ballo Della Regina, was a short 18 minute neo-classical piece by George Balanchine.  Choreographed in 1978, it’s a relatively young ballet with fast, pacy steps.  A bare stage, simply lit, with female soloists and corps de ballet fizzing through the space like popping champagne corks was a thrilling start to the evening. Balanchine really liked to use female dancers, which explains the solitary male figure.  If you like pure dance, then this is the ballet for you.  The dancers are clothed in light, gauzy dresses so you can really appreciate the line and shape of the movement, and the music – from Verdi’s opera Don Carlo – sweeps both dancers and audience along.  Marianela Nuňez, who took the lead role, danced fluently with verve and panache, relishing the challenge of all those fiendishly difficult leaps and turns on pointe.  Soloist Samantha Raine deserves a mention for her sunny radiance.

The next ballet – La Sylphide – couldn’t have been more different.  Traditional and romantic, it was originally produced in 1836 by Danish choreographer Auguste Bournonville. This version is staged by Danish dancer Johan Kobborg so it’s a double-Danish take on a Scottish story.  Troubled young farmer, James, abandons his fiancée Effie on their wedding day to chase after a winged Sylph in Scottish forests. The set conjured a farmhouse interior, complete with an impressive chandelier of stag horns and an open window leading to the dangerous woods outside.  There were colourful tartan kilts, quick-silvered footwork, leaps and jumps, but ultimately sadness at the eponymous Sylphide’s final demise. Our hero, James, was splendidly danced by Steven McRae, who neglected his fiancée so completely that it seemed only right when he got his comeuppance at the hands of the evil witch Madge, and lost sweet Effie to his friend Gurn - handsome Valentino Zucchetti.  Kristen McNally seems too young to be playing an embittered old hag and needed more evil menace.  But as the sylph, Alina Cojocaru was sublime – her radiant face and exquisite dancing superlative, convincing us that such a supernatural world really exists.

ballet2Steven McRay in La Sylphide. Photo by Bill Cooper, courtesy of ROH.

There are further performances at the Royal Opera House on 7, 12 and 15 June

For more information, please visit or 020 7304 4000

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