This revival of Apollo was not as impressive as the one by the English National Ballet a couple of years ago. This early gem needs an assurance of line and angularity that this time was missing. Federico Bonelli is an old hand in this work and surely brought personality to the role but he was lost in a tentative ensemble that lacked that unmistakable spark of magic and sense of otherness.
The first Royal Ballet collaboration between the much loved Alexei Ratmansky was an equally problematic piece. Using a rather naff orchestration of Chopin’s 24 preludes for piano by Jean Francaix was a very odd choice. George Balanchine collaborated with Igor Stravinsky in 1928 for a decidedly neoclassical take on Modernism and yet a star choreographer of our day depends on third rate, largely bland, material to build upon. The fact that the surprising turns and twists of the 40 minute ballet are anything but boring is down to his skill.
The piece seems like a conscious introduction and acknowledgement of the history of the company, in one direction he looks back at Frederic Ashton’s A month in the Country with it’s slightly bucolic touches and softness of line for the female soloists and a much more angular writing for the men, a reflection on MacMillan perhaps? The very distinct style for each gender created a dynamic and he built upon it characters for each dancer. Alina Cojocaru took the more demonstrative, happier incidents, playing to her bright stage persona. Zenaida Yanowsky was the woman hurt by men and expressing grief in the only way she can, with large open gestures and her conspicuous stage presence. Rupert Pennefather was the stand out from the boys with a very edgy and stylish performance of Ratmansky’s ambivalent tension between the athletic plasticity and the angularity of the male body. When Yanowsky and long term dancing partner Pennefather came together it was the point when the choreography exploded, showing its true potential.
Ratmansky’s main differentiating factor was the whimsy and the characterful language, combining intense body contact with very light footwork. I would not put down this new work as a future classic but as a decisive attempt by Kevin O’Hare, the new Director of Ballet, to stamp a new personality after taking over from Monica Mason. This was surely driven by the history of the Royal Ballet and I am excited to see what he can offer in a longer form and with much better music.
Christopher Wheeldon’s Aeternum, built upon Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem was a well staged crowd pleaser, brimming with energy but again his idiom depending on the contrast of a group and a soloist is getting a bit predictable. A beautiful set, largely looking like a driftwood version of the controversial Maggi Hambling shell sculpture in Aldeburgh, was ornamenting the lack of content. Surely Britten’s (surprisingly danceable) score should have encouraged a clear narrative, but it did not come through. The dynamic between a tremendously vibrant Marianela Nuñez was no substitute for true storytelling. At least the return of Federico Bonelli for an intimate pas des deux in the finale, was a welcome idea. The overall language seemed a contemporary take on Balanchine’s idiom but for my taste and despite all the vibrancy of the dancing the result was a weak idea given a very conventional shape, lacking much innovation or point of difference. Hooking on to the Britten centenary to built a new one act work maybe was the hindrance that did not arouse creativity? I am sure a lot of people enjoyed the spectacle but what was he trying to bring out of Britten’s monumental score is the question that remained unanswered. At least the beautiful, robust playing by the orchestra was a balm to our ears, with some exquisite cello passages.
The main joy of the evening was seeing long term favourites like Yanowski, Lamb and Cojocaru lit up the stage in their usual way.
The curtain calls