Dance review: Triple Bill

Some elements of this triple bill might not be everyone's glass of vodka, says Joy Sable, but overall it's a dazzling night out


What is it with ballet and birds?  We have the Swan Queen, the Black Swan, the Dying Swan… and the Firebird. The latter makes its return to the Covent Garden stage in a mixed bill with a distinctly Russian flavour.

On opening night, Yasmine Naghdi made her debut in the title role. Haughty and imperious, with a stunning jump and fluttering hands, she is a bird with a heart of stone, who only assists the Tsarevich to gain her freedom.

The ballet is more of a historical curiosity than anything else. Fokine’s choreography looks stylised and simplistic, and certainly not everyone’s glass of vodka, but The Firebird is worth seeing alone for its glorious original 1926 designs by Natalia Gonacharova. The final tableau, in which the Tsarevich is united with his bride, is a visual wonder: there is no dancing, just Stravinsky’s powerful music soaring to a thunderous conclusion.

Sir Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country, set to Chopin, distils the essence of Turgenev’s play into fifty minutes of dance drama. It is all Russian melancholy and broken hearts.

As Natalia Petrovna, Marianela Nunez swoops and swirls on waves of ecstasy as she discovers hitherto untapped sources of passion within her. Matthew Ball as Beliaev, the dishy young tutor who sets hearts aflutter, is fun and flirtatious at first, but develops an emotional maturity when he realises the depth of his feelings towards the woman of the house. His dancing is beautiful, with a lovely line and crisp footwork. Francesca Hayward gives a standout performance as Vera, Natalia’s ward. Her infatuation with Beliaev is totally credible, and her speedy bourrees across the stage are something to behold.

The evening ends on a high with Balanchine’s Symphony in C, set to Bizet’s shimmering score. Replacing an injured Natalia Osipova, Fumi Kaneko made her debut in the First Movement. Technically assured, she is all glamour and sparkle. Sarah Lamb is coolly elegant in the slow Second Movement and the entire company shines in the Fourth Movement, which brings the curtain down with an explosion of joyous dance.

The triple bill of The Firebird / A Month in the Country / Symphony in C is at the Royal Opera House until 14 June.



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