Lost Prokofiev and elegant dancing

Three contrasted ballets made up the Royal Ballet's triple bill at Covent Garden yesterday evening. First up was Serenade, choreographed by George Balanchine to Tchaikovsky's Serenade for String Orchestra. Unusually, the work was not initially created as a complete ballet, but as a series of dances purely for training purposes for a new company being formed in 1933. The dances were created for however many dancers had turned up that day, and incidents which took place during the sessions - one girl was late, another fell over - were worked (subtly) into the choreography. Later Balanchine re-worked dances to form a ballet, keeping its quirky nature - the opening dance, for example, feaures 17 dancers, an unusual number. There is no plot, just calm and elegant dance for the sake of dance, performed with fluidity and grace by the company. The lead dancers were Sarah Lamb, Maria Galeazzi, Isabel McMeekan, David Makhateli and Valeri Hristov, plus a corps of twenty-one.

The second ballet was receiving only its third performance. Choreographed by Kim Brandstrup, Rushes - Fragments of a Lost Story, was inspired by the incomplete piano sketches of a score by Prokofiev for a Russian film of The Queen Of Spades, abandoned in 1938 when Stalin's bureaucrats decreed that historical films did not conform to Socialist Realism and would no longer be made. Michael Berkeley orchestrated and wrote linking passages for the music. The Rushes of the title are the fragments of unedited camera footage viewed at the end of a day's shooting; Brandstrup drew the theme for the choreography from the early sketches by Dostoevsky for The Idiot, deliberately maintaining a fragmentary construction.

A curtain of suspended filaments runs across the stage: like theatrical gauze it can both accept projected lights and images, and also be seen through. Behind it couples dance, their apparently successful relationships mocking the drama played out both in front of and behind the curtain by the principal dancers - Leanne Benjamin, Tamara Rojo and Thomas Whithead. A plain, possibly brutal, man pursues a woman in red. She flees him, attempts to evade him, rejects his urgent and persistent advances, and dances with him only reluctantly. A depressed woman in grey seems obsessed with the man, who ignores her. There is a sequence of dances, some heralded by a projected count-down like the leader on a roll of film. Only when the woman in red has finally shaken off the man's advances does he accept the attentions of the woman in grey: as the filament curtain is raised to an empty stage they dance in a joyless passion. Effectively choreographed, and danced with an intensity which transcended the fragmentary nature of the ballet.

The final ballet was also fragmented, though in a different way. Homage to the Queen was choreographed by Frederick Ashton, to music by Malcolm Arnold, to celebrate the 1953 Coronation - indeed its premiere was on the evening of the Coronation. The dances represent the Queens of the four classical elements, Earth, Water, Fire and Air, their consorts and their attendants. 'Air' was revived in 1984, reconstructed from the memories of performers in the original, but the choreography for the other sections has not survived. For the 2006 revival new choreography by David Bintley ('Earth'), Michael Corder ('Water') and Christopher Wheeldon ('Fire') deliberately did not attempt to pastiche Ashton, though the style remained broadly classical.

Yesterday evening's queens were Maria Galeazzi, Miyako Yoshida, Marianela Nuñez and Tamara Rojo. Though well danced throughout, and very attractively staged, the music is mostly unmemorable and the choreography fairly routine. The final 'Air' section, choreographed by Ashton, works much better, and the main pas de deux is an inspired piece of choreography: it was created for Fonteyn and I was certainly reminded of her style while watching this. This made it worth seeing, but the overall ballet doesn't really carry enough substance for its length.

Posted: Fri - May 9, 2008 at 08:59 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM