The Royal Ballet

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John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC June 20-25, 2006

The old days when Britain's Royal Ballet would tour extensively in the United States are as extinguished as the five-cent cigar. Two years ago it appeared for a handful of performances at Lincoln Center's great Ashton Festival, and this year it gave Kenneth MacMillan's Manon in Boston (to which wild courtesans could not have dragged me) and a mixed bill along with its new staging of The Sleeping Beauty, a ballet that has proved one of its truly iconic treasures, in Washington.

The mixed bill was more mixed in quality than it should have been. Ashton's La Valse, far from a major work, looked messily rehearsed and was most interesting for the manner in which former New York City Ballet principal Alexandra Ansanelli has apparently assimilated the Ashton style. But if La Valse looked messy, an Ashton masterpiece, Enigma Variations, fared worse. Like A Wedding Bouquet and Illuminations, all carefully woven of threaded choreographic vignettes, this moving threnody for Edwardian England looked shamefully shabby. Apart from Zenaida Yanowsky's exquisite Lady Elgar, Marianela Nunez as Isabel, and Sarah Lamb as Mary, here the work looked underrehearsed and totally unfocused.

MacMillan's Gloria, to the Poulenc score, is an oddly abstract account of grief, said to be inspired by the loss of youth in the trenches of World War I. (Who would know? Disgracefully, the Kennedy Center failed to provide program notes for any of the ballets, finding more value in endless lists of contributors to their building upkeep.) It has some good partnering work and was provided with an excellent cast led by Alina Cojocuru, Thiago Soares, and a surprisingly sluggish Carlos Acosta.

After its considerable praise from the London critics I was a shade disappointed by the handsomely performed--Leanne Benjamin was luminous--U.S. premiere of Alastair Marriott's well-crafted Tanglewood, a plotless ballet that seemed to find little spark from Ned Rorem's admittedly unsparky Violin Concerto.

The season's interest concentrated on The Sleeping Beauty, celebrating The Royal Ballet's 75th anniversary. Devised by its artistic director, Monica Mason, and Christopher Newton, it was based on the definitive 1946 production by company founder Ninette de Valois, which basically used the original 1890 Petipa choreography. (It was secured for her, with the help of Stepanov notation, by Nicholas Sergeyev, Petipa's assistant. …