Magazine article The Spectator

Spirit of Ashton

Magazine article The Spectator

Spirit of Ashton

Article excerpt

Dance

Spirit of Ashton

Royal Ballet Triple Bill

Royal Opera House

Enigma Variations is, arguably, one of Frederick Ashton's most complex works. Created in 1968, the ballet derives its title from the celebrated set of variations by Edward Elgar, and aims to bring choreographically to life Elgar's 'friends pictured within'. Although Ashton could rely only on brief musical sketches highlighting select traits of each personality, he managed to develop characters that are dramaturgically and historically credible. He also devised a linking narrative by making them partake in one of the most significant moments of Elgar's career, namely the arrival of news confirming the start of his artistic ascent.

The ballet is an intense, though pastel-toned portrayal of friendship, in which the individuals' emotional worlds, as well as their criss-crossing destinies, are far more important than the feeble narrative. Indeed, the presence of a narrative component can be distracting. The modern viewers' quest to understand the development of what looks like a plot can seriously impinge on their appreciation of the sheer beauty of the choreography. One by one, the characters come to life through what could be regarded as a series of short essays on perfect ballet-making. Even the more light-hearted and less introspective moments are remarkable for their choreographic inventiveness.

The current Royal Ballet revival of Enigma stems from the collaborative efforts of a unique team of artists and former interpreters - what I saw on the opening night was a truly beautiful staging of a truly beautiful work. Framed by the timeless late-Romantic sets by Julia Trevelyan Oman (who first thought of a ballet to Elgar's music and to whose memory these performances are dedicated), the Royal Ballet artists proved that Ashton's artistic legacy has not sunk into oblivion. Several, in my view, came across as ideal Ashtonian interpreters: Zenaida Yanowsky's dramatic stage presence and sense of style underscored admirably her rendition of Lady Elgar, while Marianela Nuñes, another superb dancer/actress, conveyed the late Victorian romanticism of Isobel Fitton without falling into the easy trappings of contemporary stereotypical mannerisms; and, as Lady Mary Lygon, Sarah Lamb was a true dreamlike vision, surrounded by swirls of mist, spirit floating. …

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