Working out the programme for the Opening Celebration must have been a real headache: attempting to put together a series of items which illustrate the Royal Balletís history at the ROH is a tricky business. Itís like compiling an anthology - there will always be complaints over what is left out. Not to mention who does what. Dowell seems to have come up with quite a popular selection, which despite a few quirks, worked very well on the night and was very crisply and efficiently presented.
There were some odd features: Durante didnít appear with Mukhamedov; we saw very little of Sarah Wildor. The Ashton items were peculiarly chosen: either so short (a tiny, tiny snippet of Symphonic Variations - less than a minute) or from the fluffier end of the spectrum (Stepsisters, the clog dance) as if the Royal think of him only as charming and rather lightweight. We got rather longer and more substantial views of the MacMillan repertoire by contrast. But aside from that there were some lovely moments, and some quite unexpected and unfamiliar items which tuned up.
Presenting the items in the chronological sequence of their appearance at Covent Garden gave the programme a structure, though the final few items perhaps lacked the grand flourish to finish the evening. It was a very nice touch to open the evening with Sleeping Beauty, of course, and in the original 1946 costumes. This had to be danced by Bussell, and she went all out for the big effects, perhaps trying too hard to sustain the balances and not take the proffered hand. This didnít quite work and was rather too wobbly for perfection (the televised version was better), but we love her anyway.
Gala nights are really opportunities for the soloists, and the corps donít get much of a look in. But Iíd like to say that the corps did get their chance in Ballet Imperial, and really looked quite impeccable, very beautifully ordered and together. They had only a few other chances to shine, for instance in the nods to the classical heritage - a frustratingly brief excerpt from Bayadere (with Yoshida & Mukhamedov) and Raymonda (Yoshida again, very delicate and precise).
Presenting snippets from narrative works is always difficult. Excerpts from abstract works, or pure variations, always seem to work better in a gala context, where the dancers do not have to work at presenting all aspects of a character in their allotted three minutes or whatever. The variations from Napoli and Corsaire are pure crowd pleasers - and Kobborg and Acosta duly did their stuff. Acosta is already a great favourite with the RB audience, and always gets a great response. I donít know why Corella, in the Bronze Idol variation, didnít get such an ecstatic reception: Kumakawa could always be relied on to bring the house down with this. For some reason, although it was performed with some panache, it didnít generate the same level of excitement.
The big excerpts from Macmillan narratives which were presented came over quite differently: Cope and Guillem in the Manon final pas de deux received the biggest response of the evening by far: they really did manage to distil all the passion and suffering into such a short space. Watching Durante and Corella in the Romeo and Juliet balcony pas de deux was a very different experience: whereas Cope and Guillem have clearly developed a telepathic partnership, Durante and Corella, although both dancing very beautifully in their ways, look as if they belonged in slightly different productions. Durante was dancing and acting exquisitely, in the Royal Ballet tradition, with every tremor of Julietís conflicting emotions expressed through her body: Corellaís dancing was quite fabulous in his speed and attack, but it was disconcerting to see him wear the same broad grin throughout as if was all just a bit of a lark. The difference between the two was much more marked live than it was in the televised version
I canít imagine anyone making a ballet now called The Good Humoured Ladies, especially where the cast appear in the kind of gowns Madame de Pompadour might have rejected as over elaborate. Ballets made today seem constrained to have the cast all dressed in black and something vaguely threatening or violent in the title. As a pensive Christina MacDermott drifted gently across the stage in a very restrained and delicate solo, I felt an unexpected bout of nostalgia for an age of ballet Iíd never really seen - something ordered and harmonious rather than athletic and aggressive for once. Yanowsky also projected a cool and brittle elegance as the hostess from Les Biches - this is returning to the repertoire in spring, and I hope we see her in it then, because this was one of the best things Iíve seen her do.
Of the more modern items, as the evening drew to a close, those that made more impact included the zebra section from Bintleyís Still Life at the Penguin Cafe, and the pas de deux from Gloria. The ROH Orchestra sounded as if they were playing the Penguin Cafe music with gritted teeth - I suppose itís a long way to move from Wagner in a single evening - but the zebra remains an audience favourite, and Liu made a very good job of it. Gloria was much more powerful than I remembered: last performed here about six years ago, it returns to the repertory in January in the MacMillan bill, with Benjamin and Saunders, as here, in the cast. Benjamin has always been a very strong MacMillan dancer, and this was a lovely performance of some of his more inventive, but restrained, choreography: it looked a lot stronger than the pas de deux from Prince of the Pagodas which followed later.
The final items from the last few years did look a bit thin by contrast. Pageís Fearful Symmetries isnít a work from which you can cut neat segments for a gala very easily. The cast went at it with gusto, as ever, and it looked much better live than the rather flat effect given by TV. Tharp had evidently made a special compilation from Mr Wordly Wise for Irek for the occasion: although it was well performed, itís not many peopleís favourite work. Still, if the programming had been left to me, I would be unable to cut the list of what I wanted to see down to less than three whole eveningís worth, I suspect. It was a suitably festive occasion, and the final tableau was quite affecting.
Great to have them back. Looking forward to the first ballet programme tomorrow night.