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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.
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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