I hope the Diaghilev programme sells well for the Royal - it deserves to if only that we see so little of dance from that era and any company is to be encouraged for keeping up the diversity of what has been achieved in dance. Of course the burning question is were the works performed well and in the appropriate style - whatever that may be?
It's sometimes hard to answer that question at a first night I think - especially as the Royal have been prone to be a little under rehearsed at openings. But I found it a fascinating evening overall and far too much to take in at one sitting.
The piece I expected to enjoy was Les Biches by Nijinska, to a buoyant Poulenc score, about the rich enjoying house parties down on the Mediterranean in the 1920's. It's an observant piece of social history as much as an ironic look at the lives of a precious few. I remember seeing it in the early 90's, with Darcey Bussell as the Hostess with the mostest, and those incredible backbreaking bends that go on in it. However of all the pieces in the evening I found this the least satisfactory with every appearance of less than full rehearsal and even Darcey seemed a bit detached and far away.
The three boys were Jonathan Cope, Inaki Urlezaga and Nigel Burley - all big lads who looked suitably the centre of attention. Cope and Urlezaga were technically there but Burley was well adrift in comparison. Mara Galeazzi was the Girl in Blue. Ambiguous Page Boy seems a better description of the role - all sombre and distant and a role that demands good, clean, technique. Mara looked well groomed in it. It will be nice to see Les Biches again when it has settled down.
The Firebird was the other piece that has been long in the RB repertoire and gets dusted off every few years. I'm pleased to say it all seemed much better rehearsed as well - apart from the odd dropped apple here and there.
I find The Firebird a fascinating piece as Fokine - the choreographer - was consciously striving for new ways in ballet, and yet it closes on one of the most traditional of 19th century endings with the wedding of prince and princess and everybody lined up to pay homage - all except the Firebird that is. And yet it starts in such an intimate way and if it was being reworked today one feels that that intimacy would probably be maintained. But I'm not complaining: the fun in keeping such works alive is that they act as different inspirations to us. Enough of the philosophising.
Leanne Benjamin was just marvellous as the The Firebird - all the dramatic ability that we associate with her brought to bear on a somewhat more classical role. I was particularly struck by the power of her jumps and just how bird like and 'flighty' she was. Yet again I made a mental note to see more of her. Burley was Ivan Tsarevich (the prince) and looked fine enough, though Fokine's choreography for the man I always think looks a bit soppy. Genesia Rosato was the Beautiful Tsarevna - a chilling love well portrayed. But David Drew as the Immortal Kostchei was in terrific form and has the most grotesque of costumes. If this were private enterprise then Kostchei/Drew would be spun-off to become the centre of a new ballet for the Christmas children's market and we could all go "boo", "behind you" and be scared... Kostchei is just horribly evil and makes Carabosse look like a bridge-playing maiden aunt from Devises.
And so to the fresh meat - two Royal Ballet premieres of works by Nijinsky. A legend of a dancer but who went mad quite early in life and robbed the world of both his performances and more choreography.
Allen Robertson and Donald Hutera (in the Dance Handbook) say L'Apres-midi d'un faune "is an essay in stylised eroticism" and that covers it well I think. Considering it was choreographed by a legend of a dancer it is surprising to see that it concentrates so much on drama and acting - there are no big jumps or showy technical choreography here.
The story is simple: a faun is sunning itself, some Greek nymphs come by and dawdle a little, the Faun plays with them and when the nymphs go a scarf is left that he finds, takes back to place in the sun, and uses, in the nicest possible way, as a sexual object as the curtain comes down. It still shocks far more than if the Nymph had actually been there instead of the scarf. Irek Mukhamedov was the Faun and has the acting skill to bring such an amazing role to life - a spell-binding performance. While some of the movement, particularly for the Nymphs seems coy or a little dull even, this is an amazing work and deserves its place in history and 21st century ballet programmes.
Perhaps it's harder to see if Jeux will stay in the repertoire. This has been painstakingly reconstructed by Millicent Hodson and is about love and sexuality in the context of a nocturnal tennis party in London's Bedford Square - you know the type of thing, we've all been there haven't we! Superficially it's all rather 'super' as the three dancers involved (Bruce Sansom, Deborah Bull and Gillian Revie) love a little, fall out and get jealous this way and that, but all with such terrifically civilised manners. It has some of the same full frontal and compressed/squashed choreographic look of Faun, but otherwise does not seem so obviously inventive of story or movement. But there is a lot going on here and I suspect the enjoyment will be in unravelling the story and learning much more.
There are six more performances of this programme and it plays through until the 20th May. One to catch if you can.