Magazine article The Spectator

Lamentably Lukewarm

Magazine article The Spectator

Lamentably Lukewarm

Article excerpt

The Royal Ballet's new mixed bill, Celebration Programme, bids farewell to the company's artistic director and former principal dancer Anthony Dowell with a series of short works that represent significant moments of his career. It's a pity that, on the opening night, what should have been an incandescent performance resulted in a disappointingly lukewarm mishmash of uneven and often mediocre dancing. It is difficult to believe that, given the aim of the programme, little or no care was taken to make sure the dancing matched all the stylistic, technical and interpretative prerequisites of the selected and well-known choreographic works. But as soon as the first group of fairies made its entrance in The Dream I realised I was not in for a treat.

The Dream draws considerably on the witty theatricality of its choreographer, Frederick Ashton. The correct execution of the numerous intricate steps and of the various gestures and poses derived from different examples of Victorian iconography depends almost exclusively on a full understanding of the choreographer's reading of A Midsummer Night's Dream. In other words, this is a ballet that requires more than just getting the steps right (and I wish they had at least been right the night I went). None of the refined in-text jokes was performed with subtlety, and none of the choreographic nuances, including the splendid chiaroscuro of contrasting movements that Ashton created to depict the fairies' nature, came fully across.

Danish star Johan Kobborg lacked his usual lightness and technical control, turning his Oberon into a heavily earthy one. Next to him, Leanne Benjamin did her best to overlook Titania's sensuality, while Giacomo Ciriaci as Puck hammed the whole thing up. The four lovers - Nicola Tranah, Zenaida Yanowsky, David Pickering and Christopher Saunders - went far over the top. Only Luke Heydon managed to provide us with an almost acceptable reading of Bottom. The corps de ballet, alas, was what the eponymous hero in Lloyd Webber's Phantom of the Opera refers to as a `lamentable mess'.

I do not think that the so-called `Awakening' pas de deux from Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty was an ideal choice to start the second part of the evening. …

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