Review: Royal Ballet

Joy Sable gives her verdict on the Royal Ballet's mixed bill at the Royal Opera House


Four contrasting works showing the breadth of contemporary ballet are currently being performed in a Royal Ballet mixed programme at the Royal Opera House.

The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude, by William Forsythe, to music by Schubert, is a virtuoso piece, showing off the small cast of five to great effect. Forsythe uses classical technique but with a contemporary twist, in a work which demands much of its dancers. It is a fast-paced ballet, with quirkily designed tutus (loved them) for the women and fuschia-coloured outfits (hated them) for the men.

This was swiftly followed by Balanchine’s Tarantella. It is a delight; an amuse-bouche of dancing, a five-minute showstopper in which Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambe pull out all the stops. This fun, flirty piece is not your traditional pas de deux: the dancers perform next to each other rather than supporting one another. They are speedy and precise, with some of the movements (Hayward’s deep plies a la seconde en pointe) bringing laughter from the audience. It must be a killer to dance, but it is a joy to watch.

Strapless, a one-act narrative ballet from Christopher Wheeldon, tells the true story of the downfall in 1883 of society beauty Amelie Gautreau, thanks to a rather too revealing portrait by John Singer Sargent. (Her dress strap fell from her shoulder – oh, the shame of it!) As poor Amelie, Natalia Osipova looks ravishing and dances superbly, but the choreography fails to move and the erotic pas de deux between her and her lover Dr Pozzi is just not that sexy. The ballet remains an interesting study in hypocrisy at the end of the 19th century.

The evening closes with Symphonic Dances, a new one-act ballet by Liam Scarlett, to music by Rachmaninoff. It is primarily a vehicle for Zenaida Yanowsky, who leaves the company at the end of this season after 20 years. Set on a bare stage, with the dancers in black and scarlet – Yanowsky in a fabulously billowing skirt – there is a lot of running around for the corps and some real moments of power. Yanowsky’s long limbs, beautiful line and strong presence will be sorely missed on the Covent Garden stage.

The Royal Ballet’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude / Tarantella / Strapless / Symphonic Dances is at the Royal Opera House until 31 May.

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