Last night was my first visit to the ROH in over 18 months. On the car journey there I had wondered if I would burst into tears at the sheer delight of being back in the audience, but until near the end, I found myself merely happy and enthralled throughout the long programme. Although I hate what covid is doing to the RB’s income, a bonus of the sparsely occupied seats is excellent viewing with no risk of a large person sitting in front of one.
Well done to Valentino Zucchetti for composing ‘Animoi’ at what appears to be short notice! It was uneven in quality but some parts were quite striking, and I would highlight the stunning dancing of Taisuke Nakao whom I’d never before noticed. Although he doesn’t have the looks or build of a danseur noble I can imagine him filling roles such as Prince Siegfried’s friend in Swan Lake, with his brilliant combination of elegance and athleticism. The audience were greatly appreciative when the young choreographer took a bow at the end, wearing a very smart bright blue suit and an enormous smile.
Laura Morera and Ryoichi Hirano looked good together in ‘Winter Dreams’ – it’s always such a treat to see Laura; she is one of my favourites, for her expressive projection of character. I’m not always keen on Hirano but Laura obviously brought out the best in him.
My surprise of the night was ‘woman with water’. I normally don’t like modern works that seem determined to hide any message they might hold within a murky morass of seemingly vague limb movements. But although this work was a bit of a mystery in its strange ‘story’ it was quirky and compelling, and the dancers – Mayara Magri and Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød – were quite simply amazing. I couldn’t take my eyes off them for a second. The choreography looked difficult to me, but their performance was just superb. I’m running out of superlatives here. I loved it!
(By the way, just as we were entering the ROH an elderly man was also coming in with a young, handsome companion. He was saying ‘they say they can squeeze you in somewhere, but you might not be sitting with the rest of us.’ Looking again at the young man I recognised Mayara’s real-life partner, Matthew Ball, looking even better close-up than he does on stage!)
When ‘Voices of Spring’ erupted with an exuberant and playful Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé, it was a complete change of mood from the modern to the classical in music, costume and dance – yet there is no stale traditionalism in this work. Ashton’s usual restrained elegance was supplanted here by joyous ebullience seasoned with a dash of gentle self-mockery: a kind of sending-up of itself in the most delightful way, I thought. Utterly charming and a lovely contrast to what had gone before. To me, Ashton’s work embodies all that is best of Englishness: refined but not taking itself too seriously; somewhat bucolic yet sophisticated; beautiful and always entertaining. The exact opposite of that other, darker side of Englishness now so prevalent: the crass behaviour of some politicians and many football supporters.
So much for the hors d’oevres: at last we came to the main course. When the curtain went up on the gorgeous scenery and costumes of Sleeping Beauty I felt as thrilled as a child on Christmas morning. At the moment that Marianela Núñez and Vadim Muntagirov appeared at the back of the stage I suddenly felt tears trickle down my cheeks, underneath my covid mask, which was uncomfortably damp for the next hour.
They were perfect. Just perfect. Oh, I know that Marianela and her Vadream always perform impeccably, but to me they seemed on another level last night. It’s true that, out of the context of the whole ballet, that last act has less emotional impact as the sleeping princess finally attains her happiness. Bluebird James Hay had clearly been practising his entrechats. I thought Calvin Richardson seemed somewhat prosaic and earthbound as Florestan, but it must be difficult to shine when sharing a stage with Muntagirov. David Yudes and Ashley Dean were enchanting as the two cats (what a fun duet that must be to dance!)
I think this programme was well-chosen, with something for everyone – dancers and audience alike. And the glittering finale, full of gaiety and colour of the kind which we have missed so sorely over the past many months, sent us all out into the warm summer night air with a smile on our mask-covered lips and a song in our hearts. Thank you, Royal Ballet! It was such a privilege to be there.
You can see a couple of my photos here: https://maryrosedouglasuk.wixsite.com/ballet