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Royal Ballet - Ashton mixed bill


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The Ashton mixed bill opens this evening, and here are a few photos from the dress rehearsal. An outstanding bill, with my personal favourite Ashton short works (Scenes de Ballet, Month in the Country, and especially Symphonic Variations). A definite 'go see!'

 

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Scenes de Ballet - corps dancers
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

 

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Symphonic Variations (Yuhui Choe, Marianela Nunez, Vadim Muntagirov, Yasmine Naghdi)
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

 

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Month in the Country (Zenaida Yanowsky, Rupert Pennefather)
© Dave Morgan. Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

 

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Set from DanceTabs - Royal Ballet: Ashton Mixed bill
Courtesy of DanceTabs / Flickr

By kind permission of the Royal Opera House

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I do wish they showed these triple bills in the cinema. This looks so wonderful.

 

But considering the thin turnout for Manon on Thursday, I suppose it wouldn't be worthwhile financially. A DVD would be nice, though.

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I've said it before and I'll say it again: they should keep the relevant seats in the ROH off sale for all scheduled performances of Symphonic Variations, just in case they find the dream cast so they can film it.  They weren't quick enough off the mark back in 2005, tried to schedule the same cast a couple of years later for filming and it was scuppered by injury.  Should have grabbed the opportunity while they had it.

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Yes last night was really very good. It started slightly low for me as I had had really high hopes for Scenes de Ballet but was a tiny bit disappointed. The dancing was technically wonderful but I didn’t feel that much emotion in it – maybe that is the nature of that ballet or maybe it was just me not yet being in the mood after the journey in…

 

Helen Crawford was superb in Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan (a very long name for a very short ballet!). She really did have the emotional content. Loved it.

 

Highlight of the night was definitely Symphonic Variations. This was the first time I had seen Vadim Muntagirov and I can see what all the fuss is about – fantastic long lines and superb poise. Everyone was tremendous in this and I was really impressed by Yasmine Naghdi more than holding her own alongside Nunez and Choe. I think Yasmine has been one of the dancers I’ve enjoyed watching most this year, from Sleeping Beauty to Giselle to Symphonic Variations.

 

Before last night I’d not really ‘got’ Zenaida Yanowsky (to be fair I’d not seen in her in that much where she had a chance to shine) but in A Month in the Country she really showed what she’d got. Real emotional content and feeling was what won me over – plus excellent dancing of course! Judging from the fact that her applause at the end was the loudest of the night she has a lot of fans.

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alison, I mean the cast in 2005.

 

I assume Alison means the cast listed here:

 

http://www.rohcollections.org.uk/performance.aspx?performance=2101&row=100

 

I've copied it from the ROH Performance Database and pasted it below.  Apologies for the change in format. I don't know how to correct it.

 

Symphonic Variations - 2 June 2005 Evening 7.30pm Ballet: Performance details Company: The Royal Ballet Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London Performance status: Revival Conductor Emmanuel Plasson Guest Leader Robert Gibbs
Cast Dancer   Alina Cojocaru Dancer   Federico Bonelli Dancer   Laura Morera Dancer   Johan Kobborg Dancer   Belinda Hatley Dancer   Steven McRae Piano   Philip Gammon     The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
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Of the four ballets shown last night the one piece that looked as if it needed more work done on it was Scenes de Ballet.If you were not familiar with the piece you might have have come away thinking that it was a rather weak piece rather than Ashton's  neoclassical masterpiece.It was not sharp, crisp or accurate enough and the male corps was most at fault.If the female corps did not register as strongly as casts have in the past, or ooze chic, they were in the right place whereas the men were ragged and  appeared to lack the strength and control demanded by the choreography.As previous revivals have tended to use older, more senior dancers for the male corps in this ballet perhaps it was a case of boys being sent to do men's work or perhaps it was the effect of dancing so many performances of Manon where the corps is not as cruelly exposed as they are in Ashton works .In MacMillan's dramatic works you can get away with quite a lot of approximation.  Ashton however requires precision and if you aren't precise it shows. At one point the men lift the ballerina and one of them extends his arm to her.For the first time in this ballet I saw the boy's arm tremble.

 

Both Lamb and McRae danced as if they were tired for the main part they did not do anything wrong but they both failed to register as they should.For me Lamb did not bring out the contrast in her two solos, one sharp as a diamond, the other lustrous as a pearl, both deriving from Ashton's private lessons with Petipa. Somewhere in all of the choreography, particularly that for  ballerina, you should be aware of the ballet's close connection to the choreography of The Sleeping Beauty. The principal male role may involve more carrying than dancing but each section should register with clarity and precision and in this ballet precision includes landing in the place you started from. All of this may seem like nitpicking but this is one of those ballets that exposes everyone on stage and just like a piece of precision engineering it is either spot on or it is not. I expect that by the end of the run it will look much better.

 

Ashton's five Brahm's waltzes tell us in a few minutes rather than a couple of hours all that we need to know about Isadora Duncan and her influence on twentieth century dance.Ashton saw her dance and it shows. The work is an evocation not a pastiche. It is a pity that Lynn Seymour does not appear to have been involved in this revival as originally promised. I thought that Helen Crawford did well in a ballet that she was not originally scheduled to dance. My main comments are that she moved her hands like a ballet dancer and so her hand movements did not register as strongly as they should have done and that she did not quite manage to show in her dancing Duncan's relationship to the floor.I think that only Seymour has shown the weight of Duncan's style of dancing, where effort is not disguised,and the floor is something to be used rather than escaped from.  

 

Symphonic Variations was well cast and danced but I do wish that James Hay had danced off centre turns .It was lovely to see it come up fresh as paint yet again. The company is fortunate to be able to field such a fine cast . I know that a lot of people were surprised by the terse statement in the cast sheet that Matthew Golding was being replaced without further explanation although I do not think that anyone was upset by the news.

 

Month had a splendid cast on paper and in performance. Perhaps Paul Kay, who I think the best Ashton demi character dancer the company has, should bid farewell to Kolia after this run.

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Overall Symphonic Variations covered the ticket price for me.  It was lovely. 

An added bonus was seeing Vadim Muntagirov.  He definitely lived up to all the hype.  Having booked to see him on the 5th in Manon, which I missed due to sickness, I was very happy last night to find that he was standing in for Matthew Golding, it was a very pleasant surprise.  He danced with incredible finesse and beauty, and I really felt like was watching a very special performance.  The music was lovely, and I would love to see this ballet again and again.

 

Like other people I was with, we just  felt like Scenes de Ballet was a bit style over content.  I watched the principals carry out perfect technical performances and appreciated them for it, but it left me cold.  It looked beautiful, and everyone seemed to be going through the motions, and it just lacked feeling for me, and the other people I was with felt the same way.

 

Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan was beautifully carried out, and Helen Crawford gave a very heartfelt performance.  Personally, it did nothing for me, but I know nothing about this piece, and so am in no position to judge regarding the technical aspects of the dance.

 

I liked 'A Month in the Country', Zenaida Yanowsky was brilliant as usual, and a real standout for me.  I thought all the dancers acted their parts perfectly, and it was an amusing way to end the evening. I would like to see this again when I am in full health, and could properly appreciate it.

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I assume Alison means the cast listed here:

 

http://www.rohcollections.org.uk/performance.aspx?performance=2101&row=100

 

I've copied it from the ROH Performance Database and pasted it below.  Apologies for the change in format. I don't know how to correct it.

 

Symphonic Variations - 2 June 2005 Evening 7.30pm Ballet: Performance details Company: The Royal Ballet Venue: Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London Performance status: Revival Conductor Emmanuel Plasson Guest Leader Robert Gibbs
Cast Dancer   Alina Cojocaru Dancer   Federico Bonelli Dancer   Laura Morera Dancer   Johan Kobborg Dancer   Belinda Hatley Dancer   Steven McRae Piano   Philip Gammon     The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House

 

 

I did, Bluebird, so thanks for saving me the effort.  And the second-best cast I've seen was the alternative one: http://www.rohcollections.org.uk/performance.aspx?row=1&performance=2104&page=5

 

As I said, I think the above cast was scheduled precisely same 2 years later, but Cojocaru was injured and replaced by Marquez,  McRae replaced Kobborg and Ludovic Ondiviela replaced McRae.  As I said, you need to grab the cast when you can, because there's no guarantee it will ever be repeated.

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Overall Symphonic Variations covered the ticket price for me.  It was lovely. 

 The music was lovely, and I would love to see this ballet again and again.

 

As I have said many times, I would be very happy to watch Symphonic Variations on every mixed bill!  For me, it is the perfect plotless ballet.  The best dancer that I saw in it was Yoshida, who was a wonderful Ashton dancer.  I never got the chance to see Cojocaru, unfortunately. 

 

I was sure that I saw Yoshida perform it with Hatley, but obviously I made a mistake. 

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A very mixed evening I thought. A Month in the Country was for once the stand out. I was not enthralled by anything else at all. Yanowsky was wonderful. I had the pleasure of seeing a working rehearsal earlier this week with this opening night cast and the Osipova/Bonelli cast (which I also have tickets for) dance one after the other on the main stage. Yanowsky/Pennefather I felt was very much the better cast - Osipova just seemed far too young (and emotionally young) for the role to move me but that may change in fully staged performance later this month . . . Yanowsky just seems to get better and better . .

 

 

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I was sure that I saw Yoshida perform it with Hatley, but obviously I made a mistake. 

 

Funny.  If you'd asked me, I'd probably have said the same thing.

 

Edit:

 

 

Oops, missed John's reply first time around.  I'm not sure I remember that cast: Cass and Nicky Roberts don't ring a bell.  But then, that was pre-Ballet.co, when I hadn't really seriously got into the idea of seeing multiple casts, so perhaps it's not so surprising.

 

(I do wish, looking at that archive, there was a way to see what parts of a triple bill were performed together, but it doesn't look as though that's the case)

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Audiences tend to have set expectations about the works of individual choreographers because of the programming decisions made by the directors of ballet companies and the effort that ballet owners make to get particular ballets performed.The standard view is that while MacMillan made works which challenged audiences Ashton made charming pieces which made few demands on the audience. MacMillan was radical, rigorous, and forward thinking ; Ashton was conservative,without intellectual rigour and always set out to please. The bulk of the programming choices made by the Royal Ballet  since the deaths of these two choreographers has done much to create and support the image of the two men for the average ballet goer. It clearly comes as a shock to be shown a different side of their choreographic craft. Indeed if you have developed the idea of Ashton's choreography being sweet, fluffy and charming you may have difficulty watching Monotones 1 and 2  because you have to concentrate in a way that is not required when you watch Les Patineurs or the bulk of the MacMillan works that are programmed regularly.

 

 Ashton did not set out to ingratiate himself with the audience when he made Scenes de Ballet. It is a rigorous work without a vestige of narrative. He described the ballet as having a "distant,uncompromising beauty, which says " I am here, beautiful, but I will make no effort to charm you".The floor patterns for the female corps derive from Euclid's geometry and were made to be seen from any angle and they are vintage Ashton .In order to make its full impact everyone on stage has to dance with absolute precision. Unfortunately on Saturday the male corps were ragged and everyone seemed seemed under powered.The ballerina should light up the stage and the male lead although he has little actual dancing should produce the effect of a rocket going off when he takes to the air.All in all it felt more like a dress rehearsal than a performance.  

 

As a work Scenes stands on its own but you get a lot more out of it if you are really familiar with Aurora's choreography in Sleeping Beauty and the conventions of Petipa's late ballets. It helps if the ballerina role is danced by a great exponent of the role of Aurora because then the playfulness of the choreography comes across clearly..When she enters the ballerina must dominate the stage your eye must be drawn to her and stay with her. Ashton takes the expectations raised by knowledge of Petipa's nineteenth century classics and subverts them. A great performance of the ballet should leave you smiling because of the way you have been led up the choreographic garden path and then been presented with something unexpected but totally in line with the Stravinsky score. Ashton is doing to Petipa what Stravinsky is doing to Tchaikovsky playing with expectations.  While the ballet is not entirely about epaulement  luxurious arms are a distinct advantage particularly in the second solo where they should be an oriental quality to the movement. 

 

Antoinette Sibley said that Scenes was her favourite ballet and that she did not care if the audience did not understand it .She also said that she thought that it was not a good ballet to open a mixed bill because it was difficult. for an audience to come to cold. It would be interesting to see the programme reversed so that the familiar face of Ashton came first and the audience came to the least familiar and most challenging part of the programme last of all.

 

How you respond to a ballet depends not on your expectations of a particular choreographer but also on when you started to watch ballet. The initial experience of watching ballet trains your eye and effects how you see works by unfamiliar choreographers.  If you begin with Balanchine you will see everything else using Balanchine as your reference point. If you began with MacMillan you will see Ashton using MacMillan as your reference point and as Ashton's choreography is denser than MacMillan's you are likely to miss a lot on first viewing even if the ballet is exceptionally well danced. The rule of thumb for a new Ashton work or a work of his with which you were unfamiliar was that at least two viewings were required. 

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Floss, I love your post about Scenes de Ballet.  I saw it at ROH from the amphitheatre in the late 1980s as a ballet-watching newbie and absolutely adored it.  Subsequently I saw it performed by BRB at Birmingham Rep from the front stalls when the Hippodrome was being refurbished.  I adored it then too.  I think it is an absolute masterpiece.

 

I started off watching contemporary dance in the mid-1970s, found ballet boring but was converted by Onegin so I'm not quite sure where that leaves me on the expectations front!

 

Unfortunately I can't get to see the Ashton mixed programme but I envy everyone who is!

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I have been lucky enough to see Scenes from various parts of the house.. I think that it is one of those ballets that is best seen from the Amphitheatre. Watching a master choreographer move a mass of dancers around the stage forming them into groups, and then making them form ever more complex patterns only to dissolve them in the blink of an eye is one of the things that makes ballet so fascinating..

 

I think that while most choreographers can make something of a small group of dancers it is those with the ability to move large groups around and to make their exits and entrances interesting that have the greatest talent. Balanchine once said that while he and Mr Ashton might make bad ballets they never made dull ones and he could have added that they both were very inventive when it came getting the corps on and off the stage. 

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Defintely see it from amphi -as near the middle as you can get! Avoid the stalls for this one :-)

It is a complete joy,  I agree.

For me, it provides a huge amount of emotion-although of a completely different kind to the Macmillan narrative ballets which are all about passions of various kinds. This is about the pure joy of the beauty of the shapes, patterns and incredible grace of the dancer, and most of all, of dancers making shape and line together in harmony. I am surprised it left some cold, but perhaps the earlier performances were not quite of the best?

I can't wait for 28 October.

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I realised pretty early on that my seat in front row Orchestra Stalls was not the best for Scenes (excellent for the other three ballets though). That, plus Floss’s comment: “Antoinette Sibley said that … it was not a good ballet to open a mixed bill because it was difficult for an audience to come to cold” probably explains why I was a bit disappointed with Scenes.

 

Fantastic posts Floss you are really helping my ballet education!

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I have been re-watching the 2004 RB DVD which unfortunately uses too many camera angles for Scenes- ironically!- but it does have Miyako Yoshida who is perfect in the part.

(This Ashton DVD also has Les Patineurs with  a young and fizzy McRae and I love the Sleeping Beauty Awakening pas de deux with Bussell and Cope- a treasure.)

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