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Flash Review 1, 1-29: Moscow! Moscow! Moscow!
Guillem a Dream in Royal Triple Bill

By Josephine Leask
Copyright 2003 Josephine Leask

Editor's note: With this Flash Review, the Dance Insider commences a season of special coverage of the Royal Ballet by Josephine Leask and Paul Ben-Itzak.

LONDON -- Last Friday at the Royal Opera House saw a diverse evening of work presented by the Royal Ballet by two former in-house choreographers, Frederick Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan, and the talented Czech, Jiri Kylian: a pert English classic, a psychological drama and "Sinfonietta," a dance set to Janacek's most successful orchestral work. While this was maybe not the most seductive of programs, the Opera House was nevertheless packed out by its keen and loyal fans.

Ashton's "Scenes de Ballet" (1948) is probably one of his most modernist works and is concerned with 'geometry in motion,' meaning that he adapted geometric theorems as floor patterns for the dancers. Rich in symmetry and complex mathematical groupings, light on character, narrative or dramatic content this abstract ballet is performed in glamorous black and white tutus and tunics complete with glittering accessories -- chokers and hats. We are so used to seeing ballets of this ilk -- think Balanchine -- performed in plain rehearsal leotards that this was quite a costume surprise, but apparently Ashton always had an eye for a bit of pre-war glamour.

This short ballet is quite an extraordinary work, a mixture of the extravagant and the minimal -- for example, the stark set designs, a viaduct and huge columns looming above the dancers in their coquettish outfits. It takes the form of a classical ballet finale with the corps de ballet framing a pas de deux, with variations for male and female principals and a dramatic ending in which the main ballerina, Alina Cojocaru, soars above the stage in a series of dramatic lifts and dives. Stravinsky's score seems to spell out the choreography and certainly drives the whole ballet forward. The dancers are technically great and do look good in this choreography, which at times looks rather awkward as it seems to be neither one thing nor another.

MacMillan's "Winter Dreams" is based on Chekhov's play, "The Three Sisters," and is a portrayal of fraught human relationships, love, betrayal and despair. The lives of three bored sisters stuck with their dreams and aspirations in a provincial Russian town are changed -- lifted then dashed by the arrival and departure of the army in their local town. MacMillan, the choreographer famous for his fascination with the human psyche and male and female relationships, works deep into highlighting the social interactions of the family, sisters and their guests.

The compelling force in this web of emotional turbulence is of course Sylvie Guillem, who plays Masha, the sister who feels trapped in a boring marriage to the local school teacher, but only realises her feelings when she encounters the dashing army officer Vershinin. Guillem effortlessly commands attention with her presence on stage, exuding a sophistication in her movement, a calmness that is conveyed partly by her height and long gentle limbs. Her portrayal of Masha's character is very unforced and captures the sister's fragility and latent passion that is unleashed by Vershinin, the adulterous married officer danced by the forceful Nicolas Le Riche. Her other partner, Anthony Dowell, who plays Masha's husband Kulygin is also great in his interpretation of a rather dull, clownish man, and the three of them have an emotional maturity which is so right for MacMillan's work. While there are other interesting characters in "Winter Dreams," the ballet could exist with just this triangle, which is fascinating, and I could watch Guillem forever.

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