Insight evening: Scènes de Ballet/ The Rite of Spring, Linbury Studio Theatre @ ROH – reviewed on 18th May
Ballet master Christopher Carr began by rehearsing Frederick Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet with dancers Lauren Cuthbertson, Sergei Polunin and others. Carr described the importance of geometric shapes in the ballet, with lots of angles and straight lines. When he danced it, he felt like he would explode because it was so tiring – not only physically but also mentally as the musical counts are so complicated. The ballet was one of Ashton’s favourites and the choreography he felt most satisfied with. It still has freshness today despite being choreographed more than 60 years ago.
Cutherbertson performed her two solos. The first was firework-like with rapid jumps and changes of direction; the second, a sexy and elegant sequence of shoulder and hip-shaking. As well as her exquisite technique, we saw her joy of dancing and sense of humour as she tried to master the Ashton winding arms under Carr’s guidance. Polunin leapt into his numerous double tours with vigour, managing to master the complicated timing.
Then Gavin Plumley, music writer, spoke about Stravinsky, persuading the audience not to be afraid of his scores, which appear to be (but are not really) impossibly complicated. Using the analogy of lego, he explained how Stravinsky used the building blocks of Tchaikovsky’s earlier ballet music and changed the order of basic melodic bricks to make his works sound different and interesting. In The Rite of Spring, a simple 2/4 rhythm is sometimes used but with variable accents on top, the music sounds deceptively complex.
Finally, Monica Mason spoke about Kenneth MacMillan’s Rite. She created the lead role in 1962 after MacMillan was inspired by both her Zulu background and seeing her dancing wildly at a Royal Ballet party. Mason was told to come to the studio ‘prepared for anything’ and immediately loved the ballet’s style, as there was no need to worry about beauty, turn out or pointed feet. The focus was all on music, rhythm and pushing the body to its limits of energy. All involved had great fun in creating it. This season she has also taken the interesting decision to cast male dancers Edward Watson and Steven McRae as the Chosen One, where females are typically seen.
Mason coached Valentino Zucchetti – he’s covering the role and danced it with plenty of energy and exuberance. Mason directed him through the unusual and aptly-named ‘rabbit jump’, ‘heart attack’ and ‘hiccup’ movements. She highlighted the important details of finger and hand positions and praised Zucchetti for learning the choreography so well from the back of the studio.
The insight evening was as fun and informative as ever and I’m now looking forward to seeing the upcoming triple bill in performance even more.