Apollo, Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, Dances at a Gathering
In the second programme since returning to the Royal Opera House stage, the Royal Ballet treated a live audience to superlative dancing in a triple bill showcasing two of the greatest 20th century choreographers, George Balanchine and Jerome Robbins.
The evening began with Balanchine’s famous Apollo. Created in 1928, it is considered to be one of the most challenging male roles in the classical repertoire and in spite of seeing many casts over the years, I believe the first night cast will be a tough one to better. The ballet tells the story of the Greek god of music, Apollo, from his birth through to his ascent to Mount Parnassus. Along his journey, he is enlightened by three muses: Calliope (poetry), Polyhymnia (mime) and Terpsichore (dance and song). Vadim Muntagirov may well have been a Greek god in a former life for he certainly embodied the role with all the necessary attributes to pull this off. His physical beauty and his clear understanding of how he develops from unsteady birth to fully mature god, was very persuasive. While his technical prowess has been well documented, he is finding new depths in his interpretive skills. His muses, Anna Rose O’Sullivan, Mayara Magri and Yasmine Naghdi were similarly impressive and complemented one another.
If this was an example of purity and understated excellence, Balanchine’s 1960 Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux was the antithesis – an object lesson in flamboyant showmanship. In this cast, it was down to Reece Clarke, in a miracle of extra sensory perception, to predict how to partner all the energy and excitement that Natalia Osipova generated. Clarke will no doubt gain confidence with more performances, but this was a grand beginning from him. Technically more than capable, he looks to be a partner of considerable strength and sensitivity. Osipova was in her element, fearless in her attack of every phrase, explosive and unstoppable. If there was an occasional loss of shape or form, she made up for it with her ebullience and risk taking, the power and speed, which were absolutely thrilling.
After the interval, when we had recovered our composure, Robbins’ Dances at a Gathering and its wistful, sublime and lyrical choreography, was the perfect way to end the evening. With Robert Clark giving us his usual, consummate rendition of Chopin’s solo piano music, the stage offered up supreme quality from the entire cast. The Royal Ballet boasts a number of first rate casts but as I reported last year, I find myself moved to mention some stand out performances. Laura Morera, dressed in green, has to wait some time before she makes her first entrance but when she does, it is worth every second of anticipation. Every time I watch her do this role, she brings a nuanced freshness to it. However, as is so often the case with her dancing, it is the way she plays with the phrasing that turns the performance from very good to sensational. The other mention must go to William Bracewell, also dressed in green, seen here mostly dancing with the gorgeous Francesca Hayward.
Bracewell has been deservedly nominated for a Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for this particular role. Amid the roster of wonderful dancers on stage it leaves one even more surprised to note that his distinctive movement style is so eye-catching. He manages such full port de bras, such deep pliés and high jumps and all within the context of expressing the music – a massive talent, I can hardly wait to see what’s next for him. Dances at a Gathering is just over an hour long – an hour of pure bliss.
By Deborah Weiss