When together, Salenko and McRae are ingeniously sublime.
Last night saw the world premiere of Carlos Acosta’s new ballet, Carmen – based on Georges Bizet’s tragic, four-act opera. Preceding it, though, were three considerably shorter ballets by three very different choreographers. The quadruple bill found no trouble in pleasing the sold-out theatre’s audience.
The first piece, Viscera, was choreographed by the Royal Ballet’s Artist in Residence, Liam Scarlett, on the Miami City Ballet and received its premiere with them in January 2012 before being performed by the Royal Ballet. The piece is driven by dynamic music and the flashy, pore-raising technique of contemporary ballet.
It is quite obvious that Viscera was made for American dancers but the stars of the Royal, though they lost some of the American ‘freedom’ so to speak, they were able to add lyricism and a true control as the English style dictates.
Commendable were the performances of Principal, Laura Morera, and First Soloist, Yuhui Choe who stunned with slow, precise turns and wonderfully placed extensions.
However, I found myself struggling to focus during the first and third parts of the piece, where there were several groups of dances performing different steps across the stage. This, though, is quite common in contemporary ballets in particular.
Following Scarlett’s piece was Jerome Robbin’s Afternoon of a Faun which is choreographed to Claude Debussy’s Prelude de l’apres midi d’un faune. The short piece was danced by Principal’s Vadim Muntagirov and Sarah Lamb who were able to turn its steps into a gorgeous display in the simple studio setting.
Then, came what, for me, was the highlight of the evening. Principal, Steven McRae was joined by Guest Artist Iana Salenko (who replaced an injured Natalia Osipova) in dancing George Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux. Separately, Salenko and McRae command the stage – with pristine techniques and magnificent presence – so when together the result is ingeniously sublime. Salenko tantilised the audience with lengthy balances and unmatched turns – she ended the coda’s fouettés with a triple, sliding through the music into the next preparation and the audience exploded. McRae, too, gained an applause after a perfect execution of his variation and a series of jetés around the stage before leaping into the wings. The couple drew gasps from the audience when Salenko soared into McRae’s arms, ending in a fish dive not once, but twice.
Then came Acosta’s long-awaited ballet. Although I am unfamiliar with the opera, I picked up on several of the tunes. The ballet’s set (pictured on the left during the curtain call) was simple – with a backdrop that, in the end, dropped down to reveal a ‘field’ of roses around Carmen’s dead body. The circular gap featured haunting clouds and trees at times and the red circle was ever-present on the stage.
When I read the program and what the costumes would be like I instantly dreaded seeing them, but they were in fact wonderfully made and suited the feel of the hour-long production.
The piece was a well fused combination of ballet and opera though, there were points in which it didn’t quite click for me. Sadly, Acosta has, as with his Don Quixote, chosen to incorporate sounds apart from the singing – having the dancers screech in Spanish and hoot at several points. While Acosta’s Carmen is most certainly not a classical ballet, nor was it meant to be, the incorporation of sound on the part of the dancers disturbs me, as it did with Don Quixote.
Carmen was danced by the incomparable Argentine Principal, Marianela Nuñez – whose turnout made me want to applaud. Though Nuñez is usually quite the character on stage – particularly mind-blogging as Kitri – she seemed too focused on the steps for the first half of last night’s performance, though she quickly came to. I could go on and on of the perfection of her pirouettes, lines and musicality, but I shall spare you.
As Don José, Acosta was on top of his game – dancing far better than in any role that I’d seen him perform during the 2014/15 season. The chemistry he shares with Nuñez will be sorely missed when he departs this season.
And finally, completing the tragic trio of lovers as Escamillo was Italian Principal Federcio Bonelli. The role suited Bonelli’s charismatic persona and I found that his dancing too was superlative to previous performances – either by the choreography, the need to impress on opening night, or a combination of the two.
Alas, the ballet’s success truly rests on the three stars for the rest of the choreography seemed somewhat incomplete – with Acosta tossing in far too many canons and having girls being pushed across the stage in wheeled chairs.
That aside, the quadruple bill is definitely not one to miss, the Tchai Pas and Faun being particularly compelling. The final performance will be relayed in cinemas on 12 November. For tickets and further details visit the website of the Royal Opera House.