Royal Opera House
Frederick Ashton, the Royal Ballet’s founder choreographer, created numerous ballets during his lifetime, and the triple bill now on at the Royal Opera House showcases just three of his works, all very different in style, yet all bearing the hallmarks of Ashton’s genius.
The evening begins with Scenes de ballet, his 1948 piece to music by Stravinsky. Despite having always struggled with maths, Ashton became fascinated by geometry and mathematical theorems prior to making this ballet, and the result is a work which highlights various angles, patterns and shapes created by the dancers. It is a piece which works equally well – if not better – when viewed from the cheaper seats high up in the Opera House, than the pricier stalls.
At the performance I saw, Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke were precise and articulate as the lead couple, and the corps were on good form. Some of the steps show the clear line of inspiration Ashton took from Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty before adding his own unique touch. The tutus, by Andre Beaurepaire, are particularly striking, and the ballet demands a lot from its dancers, but I admire the concept rather than love it.
A Month in the Country is Ashton’s interpretation of the play by Turgenev. Seething passions, simmering emotions and the story of a woman seizing her last chance at real love are all distilled into 45 minutes of pure poetry. Set to pretty pieces by Chopin, it is a masterclass in Ashton choreography: the fast footwork, beautiful bends of the torso and luscious arm movements are so typical of his style.
Natalia Osipova is a compelling Natalia Petrovna. We almost feel her pain as she is consumed by feelings for the young tutor (an affecting William Bracewell). Meaghan Grace Hinkis gives a standout performance as Vera, Natalia’s ward who has a crush on the tutor too. Naturally, it all ends in tears, but what a miniature masterpiece it is.
The evening concludes with Rhapsody, created in 1980 to celebrate the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday, set to Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. Originally performed by the extraordinary Mikhail Baryshnikov, the lead male role requires choreographic fireworks and a willingness to pull out all the stops.
Cesar Corrales started tentatively in the lead role, and though things picked up as the ballet progressed, his jumps were ragged and lacked the finesse required. He did well, though, in the adage – it is hard to go wrong with the wonderful and familiar Variation 18. He was outdanced by Francesca Hayward in the ballerina role; a shimmering picture of loveliness, she made the most of Ashton’s beautiful choreography.
The Ashton triple bill is at the Royal Opera House until 2 May