Magazine article The Spectator

Bare Essentials

Magazine article The Spectator

Bare Essentials

Article excerpt

Triple Bill

The Royal Ballet

Although George Balanchine's 1957 ballet Agon is not based on a Greek myth, it is traditionally regarded as the third instalment of the 'classical antiquity' series, following Apollo (1928) and Orpheus (1948). Inspired by the competitive displays of physical bravura that were so popular in ancient Sparta, Agon marked a significant stage in the development of Balanchine's choreographic aesthetic. It is in Agon, in fact, that the dance-maker's 'stripped-to-the-essential' formula found its most vivid first expression. Visually unhindered by costumes and sets - the action takes place against a monotone backcloth and the dancers wear T-shirts and leotards - the enthralling complexities of the choreographic layout can thus be fully appreciated in line with Balanchine's creed, 'dance for dance's sake'. Set to an equally innovative score by Stravinsky, who had just started to incorporate techniques of serial composition into his work, the ballet juxtaposes 12 dancers and 12 choreographic episodes with the Stravinsky 12-tone row of notes as well as with the 12 old French melodies he used for the composition.

The final outcome is a seamless kaleidoscope of ideas based on a superlative fusion of classical ballet vocabulary with movements derived from other, more modern dance practices; not surprisingly, it remains one of the greatest choreographic compositions of the past century. As such it deservedly brought the house down on the opening night of a new Royal Ballet triple bill.

Beautifully staged by Patricia Neary - one of Balanchine's former muses - it qstarted the evening on a high note. I have often complained about the disappointing approach of the Royal Ballet's dancers to the Balanchine style, but this time I am happy to take it all back. Interestingly, the male contingent looked much more at ease with the work's complexities and nuances than their female counterparts, who often looked out of synch. Carlos Acosta, Johan Kobborg, Valeri Hristov and Brian Maloney thus shone as near-to-perfect Balanchinian interpreters. Among the females only Melissa Hamilton looked, in my opinion, completely au fait with the whole thing, as highlighted by her breathtaking duet with the ultra-superb Acosta. Despite being technically strong, Mara Galeazzi, the interpreter of the well-known percussion-only solo, indulged too much in the subtle sensuality that underpins it, and let her interpretative individuality come to the fore far too often. …

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