The Gala for Princess Margaretís 70th birthday was a strikingly inclusive affair, with representatives from all major companies in the UK. We arenít given much to galas in the UK: they must be a real nightmare to organise and schedule. But congratulations are due to Wayne Sleep and his team for putting together a programme which avoided trotting out just the usual standards and was a well paced and contrasted evening. There was a good deal of dance as well as more classical pieces, plenty of humour, new work as well as old, and, as there should be on such occasions, at least one piece with some surprises in the cast - in this case, Wayne Sleep and David Bintley appearing with Marion Tait in Tweedledum and Tweedledee. There were also tributes to HRH from Dame Beryl Grey, Sir Anthony Dowell, Derek Deane and Sir Peter Wright.
The first half opened with the boys of the Royal Ballet School, with the hornpipe, followed by a performance by older pupils of the RBS and ENBís school - unusual to see the two side by side. We moved on to Ashtonís charming Voices of Spring divertissement, as performed by BRB in their Ashton programme at present (Ambra Vallo, Robert Parker - alas, no scattered rose petals, there wouldnít have been time to sweep them up).
This was followed by AMP dancers in an excerpt from Matthew Bourneís Spitfire, one of his earlier pieces, which had the audience in terrible fits of giggles. The cast model various items of male undergarments in a series of mock heroic poses, including what looked like a cheeky Balanchine reference, maintaining a wonderful straightfaced nonchalance throughout. One of the best and most surprising choices of the evening for me, and one of the few excerpts where I was full of curiosity to see the whole thing. In complete contrast, this was followed by Leanne Benjamin and Nigel Burley from the Royal in the slow and dreamy pas de deux from MacMillanís Concerto - very beautifully and calmly danced by Leanne with unobtrusive but extremely secure support from Burley.
Next along was another contrast - an excerpt from A Simple Man, made by Gillian Lynne for NBT some years ago, and recently revived. Gillian Lynne appeared as the dominating mother: she canít be far off Princess Margaretís age, but looked remarkably fit and pliable: itís not a work which comes over very well as a snippet, but she had remarkable stage presence all the same.
The Mistake Waltz from The Concert (the Royal) moved back into more humorous territory - very popular with the audience. NBT returned with excerpts from Nacho Duartoís Jardi Tancat, which looked like it belonged rather more in Rambert territory - barefoot and fluid.
Christopher Hampson had made a short item specially for this evening, Homage to a Princess, for Tamara Rojo and Johan Kobborg. It was only a morsel, but they looked very stylish together: Kobborg elegant in black tie and tails, Rojo glamorous in an evening gown. I wished this piece was longer.
Balanchineís Tarantella was performed by Monica Perego of ENB and Irek Mukhamedov. This might have been an error on Irekís part - he doesnít have the speed he used to. He still gives the audience that conspiratorial grin, and we respond to his presence, but it would be better to leave the heroic steps to others and chose items which exploit his dramatic presence and partnering skills instead. But the audience loved it - he still remains a great favourite.
And that was just the first half.
There were another eight items in the second half. The opening item was a newish piece from Matthew Hart as the self important composer at his piano as Antonia Francesci as the recalcitrant muse with killer legs that climbs out of it. Entertaining stuff - good to have a piece shown in its entirety, too.
Derek Deane assured us that there were ambulances standing by in case of emergency as Wayne Sleep, David Bintley and Marion Tait tackled Tweedledum and Tweedledee. There may have been better performances of this in technical terms, but there was certainly a sense of occasion to it. And Ashtonís choreography remains as loveable as ever.
In another shift of mood, we moved on to Rambert, in an excerpt from Christopher Bruceís Ghost Dances. This was nicely performed, but doesnít have the same impact when taken out of context.
We moved back into comedy territory with extracts from Bintleyís Hobsonís Choice, performed by Michael OíHare and Leticia Muller of BRB. If this was a celebration of British dance as well as a Birthday Offering, then I suppose clog dancing had to be in it somewhere. Michael OíHare was delightfully engaging, and this piece came across much better than many of the extracts from narrative works that evening.
Darcey Bussell and Roberto Bolle then performed the pas de deux from Swan Lake Act II. She looked in excellent form. It made me was really pleased to be in Sadlerís Wells, where you have such a better and more close up view of the dancers, rather than in the ROH. Each little nuance registered. I canít say that Bolle projected much of Siegfriedís character, but thatís asking a lot for an evening like this.
ENB then had their turn, with Hampsonís Coda for three men - an I-can-jump-higher-turn-faster-than-you competition , with Yat Sen Chang, Daniel Jones and Yosvani Ramos making a determined effort to steal each otherís thunder. A great show off gala item, which the performers seemed to enjoy as much as the audience.
I thought the choice of the country scene from Marguerite and Armand for Guillem and Cope was an interesting one - not an obvious Ďgalaí choice, perhaps in terms of pyrotechnics, and perhaps too emotional and deeply felt to register in a short item. It worked surprisingly well, centring on the confrontation between Guillem and David Drew as the father. Guillem gives any performance, no matter how short, her full passion and commitment. A pleasure to see so much Ashton in the programme.
The final item was the Corsaire pas de deux performed by Acosta and Marianela Nunez. He is just astonishing. It was awesome. There had been some striking performances that evening, but this was something else. It made you want to rush out and book up immediately for the handful of appearances he is making with the Royal. The newly promoted Marianela Nunez did not look overawed, and was pleasingly natural and unforced in her dancing, never looking as if she was striving for effect. The audience response was ecstatic for the pair of them.
Quite an evening, and it must have required formidable organisation. Thereís a gala celebrating Anthony Dowell at the ROH in May - hope it has as many interesting items as this one.