A last dose of vitamin D before the clocks go back: Royal Ballet’s triple bill reviewed

2 November 2019

9:00 AM

2 November 2019

9:00 AM

Were those gerberas in Francesca Hayward’s bouquet on opening night? Gentlemen admirers take note: no woman, ballerina or otherwise, has ever welcomed a bunch of gerberas. Hayward deserved better for her adorable Dorabella in Enigma Variations. In white flounces and gathered bloomers she lighted the stage with sprightly sweetness in Frederick Ashton’s one-act ballet set to music by Edward Elgar.

The moment: Edwardian. The mood: lamentation in the drawing room. The look: tweed, knickerbockers, pipes, monocles, moustaches held on with glue. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s designs set us at a country-house party — William Morris wallpaper, parlour games, cold tea — in a palette of somnolent drabness. There was handsome dancing by Laura Morera, Beatriz Stix-Brunell, Olivia Cowley, Itziar Mendizabal, Reece Clarke and Matthew Ball as Elgar’s circle, but it was all rather bloodless and snoresome.

The evening’s triple bill opened with the pep and pizzazz of Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto: three abstract movements in Sunny Delight colours set to Shostakovich, a last dose of vitamin D before the clocks went back. Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé danced the first movement: she with pearly precision, he with beaming brio and immense presence. He is not tall, but his shoulders and his stately carriage boost him another foot. In his spins, he unravels like a strip of orange peel. If you could bottle him you’d make a fortune: essence of strength and youth.

Lauren Cuthbertson and Reece Clarke were a less successful pairing in the second movement: she immaculate, he tall and smooth as a stick of celery. In the third movement, Fumi Kaneko was a peach. She dances with lovely subtlety. Always watch her feet: angelic ankles.

Best wishes to Steven McRae, who strained his Achilles tendon dancing Manon’s Des Grieux and was replaced in Raymonda Act III by Vadim Muntagirov. Cor, now that’s what I call a set! The curtain rises on a domed church hung with gilded icons. Marius Petipa’s Raymonda, first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in Moscow in 1898, tells of Jean de Brienne, a medieval knight, who rescues his lady Raymonda from a Saracen.

We join Raymonda (Sarah Lamb) and Jean (Muntagirov) for their wedding in Act III. All is sumptuous: capes for the chaps, fur hats and ostrich plumes for the girls. The corps glitter like a diadem. The superb Lamb, serene and sphinxy, dances as if it’s a dare: ‘You just watch me…’ Muntagirov makes a fleet and princely knight crusader. Among the ‘Variations’, Melissa Hamilton’s was the exceptional performance, glittering like gold leaf. What with her intricate rendering of Ashton’s Monotones II earlier last month, Hamilton is having a cracking run.

As for Osipova… Where to start? Pure Dance, the programme put together by the Royal Ballet’s Natalia Osipova at Sadler’s Wells, is an ill-thought-through bill of seven short acts. The Leaves are Fading by choreographer Antony Tudor is a country-cousinish pas de deux for Osipova and David Hallberg. Nice, but no better than nice. Chamomile-tea choreography. In Left Behind, Osipova and her fiancé Jason Kittelberger crawl and claw at each other. They mope, they grope. They slam a door. (It wobbles.) They do a slow-mo break dance. As he took his bow, Kittelberger winked at the audience. Gentlemen: don’t wink.

Flutter (by Ivan Perez) sees Osipova and Jonathan Goddard in a well-meaning, meandering piece set to a soundtrack of recited numbers, addresses and other nonsense. They hop like happy Hare Krishnas, they flounder like beached carp, they do mutual martial arts. And on we go through Kim Brandstrup’s solo piece In Absentia (shades of Kevin Bacon in Footloose), the soporific Six Years Later, the MGM-ish Valse Triste and the saving grace, Ave Maria.

In this feverish solo, choreographed by Yuka Oishi, Osipova releases the antic energy that makes her such an electrifying dancer. Shame about the reediness of the recorded Schubert. Get a pianist and a soprano on stage and you’d have something special. In Ave Maria, at her best, Osipova danced like Saint Theresa in ecstasy.

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