The latest online offering from the Royal Ballet will do much to please audiences unable to visit the Royal Opera House during lockdown. The two-hour programme features a selection of old favourites combined with newer works. There is no scenery – much too difficult to manage under Covid restrictions – but this means the focus is purely on the dancing.
The show begins with Scherzo, a new piece by First Soloist Valentino Zucchetti. Set to music by Rachmaninov, the short work is danced at speed by some of the younger members of the company. With lots of rapid entrances and exits for the dancers, it is reminiscent, in the best possible way, of Ashton’s 1980 work, Rhapsody. Zucchetti shows exceptional promise as a choreographer, and I look forward to seeing more of his work.
An excerpt from Rhapsody follows straight afterwards – the slow pas de deux to Rachmaninov’s famous Variation 18 on a theme of Paganini – with light as a feather Akane Takada and the wonderful Alexander Campbell. This is followed by another Ashton work, the short Monotones II, to the beautiful Gymnopedies by Erik Satie. Created at the height of the 1960s space race, it has a serene, other-worldly feel about it. Some of the movements baffle the eye, such as when Melissa Hamilton’s body turns upside-down and bends around her split legs. Danced with cool elegance by Hamilton, Reece Clarke and Nicol Edmonds, it is a tiny gem of a ballet.
Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Marcelino Sambe zip through Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux, while Francesca Hayward uses her exquisite arms to great effect in the Act II pas de deux from Swan Lake. Her long-awaited debut as Odette/Odile was put on hold because of lockdown, but just this taster from the entire ballet promises great things.
Another feathered friend – the Dying Swan – also makes an appearance. I have no time for Fokine’s short, overrated dance. It is all bourrees and manic arm-waving, and Natalia Osipova makes the most of her three minutes on stage.
There are several other pieces to savour, including the bedroom pas de deux from Manon and one from Concerto, both very different examples of MacMillan at his best, plus a gala favourite from Le Corsaire.
The programme finishes with a complete performance of Within the Golden Hour by Christopher Wheeldon. I miss seeing full-length three-act ballets, but at least ballet lovers have the opportunity to watch some exquisite dancing online until our lives return to normal and we can visit theatres properly once again.
The Royal Ballet Live: Within the Golden Hour is available to watch on demand until Sunday 13 December www.roh.org.uk