Birthday Offering/ A Month in the Country/ Les Noces, Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House – reviewed on 3rd July
Birthday Offering was created in 1956 to celebrate the Royal Ballet’s 25th anniversary. This year it commemorates not a birthday but the end of Monica Mason’s ten-year term as company artistic director. Originally designed to highlight the company’s talent, it features complex solos for seven leading ballerinas, a lyrical pas de deux and grand Russian-style group sections. More than 50 years later, it is frequently revived for celebrations and remains in sparkling form.
To Alexander Glazunov’s triumphant score, Frederick Ashton’s choreography feels zingy and fresh. A stellar cast of top company members take the lead roles; Yuhui Choe playfully flicks her wrists, Roberta Marquez jumps explosively and Marianela Nuñez moves her feet with a rapid precision that matches perfectly the delicate string sounds. Nuñez’ pas de deux with real-life partner Thiago Soares is delightfully understated with the couple executing extended balances with ease. Birthday Offering is a truly joyful ballet and one in which the Royal Ballet excels.
Second Ashton work, A Month in the Country, is performed with equal flair. In an 1850 Russian country house, stifled housewife Natalia finds desire and exhilaration in the form of her son’s tutor, Beliaev. Lead Alina Cojocaru displays her character’s every minute emotion, powerfully evoking the audience’s sympathy and making the ballet’s final moments utterly heart-breaking. Her lover, Federico Bonelli, dances with poetic softness and a modestly-displayed but clearly fervent passion. An excellent supporting cast complete the picture, with Iohna Loots as charming and naïve ward Vera deserving particular praise.
|The Royal Ballet in Les Noces|
Photo: Tristram Kenton, courtesy of ROH
Bronislava Nijinska's Les Noces, originally created for the Ballets Russes, ended the evening with a bang. To Igor Stravinsky’s masterful vocal score, it depicts wedding rituals as Bride (Kristen McNally) marries Bridegroom (Valeri Hristov). The corps de ballet take the most integral roles here, with bold and tribal choreography based on simple sequences of predominantly walking and jumping performed en masse. Although the cast didn’t have the absolute unison required to make the boldest statement, the ballet does not fail to haunt with its brown-clad figures forming elaborately interweaved and striking group poses (see image above).
This was another marvellous triple bill by the Royal Ballet, intelligently put together by Monica Mason. New director, Kevin O’Hare, has a lot to live up to.