The Royal Ballet: Rhapsody/The Two Pigeons Review

Hayward and Hay never failed to combine grace, beauty and striking lyricism in Ashton’s 30-minute spectacular.

The Royal Ballet commenced it’s 2016 Winter Season this Saturday with yet another double bill of works by its founding choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton.  The bill saw the return of The Two Pigeons – which came back to Covent Garden last November after a 30-year absence –  and Rhapsody.

Rhapsody is a half-hour long ballet set to music by Russian composer Sergei Rachmainoff.  The piece was choreographed in 1980 for the 80th birthday of HM The Queen Mother by Ashton.  Its male part was made on world-renowned Russian dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov, and its female was made on English ballerina Lesley Collier.

On opening night, First Soloist James Hay danced the lead male role admirably – slicing through the space with long, strong lines that managed to maintain their grace – something I find many male dancers struggle to do.  Partnering Hay, was First Soloist Francesca Hayward.  Hayward, petit and fairy-like, is the Royal Ballet’s undeniable rising star.  She found no problem in executing Ashton’s intricate maze of steps – skittering across the stage and making the endless quick footwork appear like butter melting against toast.

Hayward and Hay are perfectly matched here – he is not too tall for her and matches her small frame.  The two never failed to combine grace, beauty and striking lyricism.

The corps de ballet for this short piece consists of six male and six female soloists.  Of the lot, Marcelino Sambé and Yasmine Naghdi were the most prominent – Sambé’s turns and jumps – which he was able to showcase as Gypsy Boy later on in Pigeons – scream for well-deserved attention .

This opening night of Pigeons showcased First Soloists Alexander Campbell (Young Man), Yuhui Choe (Young Girl) and Itziar Mendizabal (Gypsy Girl).  Campbell and Choe are unmatched in these roles, where do I begin?

Choe’s Young Girl is as vivid and animated as they come and she gives true meaning to Ashtonian ballet.  Of all the dancing she does, it is the Young Girl’s ‘angry variation’ that impressed me the most.  She rolled through her body with her hip forward and melted as the top just as Ashton wanted, according to Collier, and pounded across the stage in the most complex and quick bourrées I’ve seen – this could be attributed to the way she was able to play with the music and utilise each note.

Campbell’s interpretation and portrayal of the Young Man was electrifying and perfectly suited to partner Choe.  Their final pas de deux – apart from a mishap which almost sent one of the birds flying away – was ever-graceful and the perfect end to the two-act ballet.

Though teasing and technically remarkable, Mendizabel’s Gypsy Girl carried no defining, spectacular trait – especially when put against  Laura Morera’s more exciting, sexy and tasteful take during the first run in November 2015.

Rhapsody/The Two Pigeons runs until 30 January, 2016.  There will be a live cinema relay on Tuesday 26 January, 2016 and the cast will star Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae in Rhapsody and Lauren Cuthbertson, Vadim Muntagirov and Fumi Kaneko in Pigeons.

For tickets and further details please visit the website of the Royal Opera House.

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