Sambé and Hayward Taran-teared-it-up during this Royal Ballet premiere
The Royal Ballet’s first of two mixed bills during their summer season premiered Liam Scarlett’s much anticipated ballet, Symphonic Dances, choreographed for the soon-to-retire Principal Zenaida Yanowsky. However, the 45-minute piece set to Rachmaninoff’s suite is preceded by three others – all glittering with the company’s best and brightest stars, so less wisely used than others.
The first ballet is Willam Forsythe’s The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude set to Schubert’s Symphony no.9 in C major. The 12-minute ballet is nothing short of spectacular.
The piece uses all its dancers equally, ignoring the hierarchy known to most ballets – and each of its five dancers must prove their worth through continuous counts of quick beats, turns and eye-dazzling extensions.
The lime green tutus are saucer-shaped and not bejewelled like Aurora’s, but simpler and striking against the purple leotards worn by Steven McRae and Vadim Muntagirov.
McRae is a leech to Schubert’s music, his kicks and jumps hitting every intended note and Muntagriov boasts gorgeous lines in gravity defying leaps.
Marianela Nuñez reminisced on Balanchine’s Diamonds during some arabesques exquisite enough to deserve their own applause, and if that was not enough she drew breaths from the audience with a quadruple (was it?) pirouette after a gorgeous fouetté.
Following Vertiginious was the Royal Ballet’s premiere of George Balanchine’s 1964 Tarantella. Marcelino Sambé and Francesca Hayward make a welcomed return as a couple here, following their successful débuts together in La Fille Mal Gardée last autumn. The two are natural comedians with pristine musicality.
Sambé is a continuous tease as he flies around the stage – trying to draw a reaction from the audience, who comply after a marvellous manège of jetés. Hayward too pulled snickers, sinking flirtatiously into some deep pliés en pointe – her nonchalant expressions, crisp footwork and generous flexibility create some picture-perfect moments.
Then, comes the return of Christopher Wheeldon’s 2016 Strapless – the bill’s dullest moment for me. With a score full of brass, the one-act has a female character who is both fame and power hungry. Natalia Osipova’s Amélie Gautreau has the same potential as MacMillan’s fiesty, seductive and ill-fated Manon, but Wheeldon fails to make the audience empathise. Who is Amélie? We never really seem to be told.
And even more, the choreography is laboured – we are hardly even treated to Osipova’s powerful jumps although the role was created on her.
Nevertheless, the bill comes to a brilliant conclusion with Liam Scarlett’s Symphonic Dances. Yanowsky, strides forward as a powerful figure clad in the most gorgeous dress of black and red – the stage around her open and bare apart from a moving light panel, wider than the audience is accustomed to seeing, but she fills it all with persona, movement and simple breath.
Yanowsky’s dress, however, is a few inches too long. Though brilliant, all of the hard work and most beautiful moments of the first movement are lost in the flurry about her feet.
James Hay dances his solo with dignified intelligence, curious and longing for whatever Yanowsky represents – though any moments that gear up to truly connect the dancers to the audience are often lost in its abstract essence.
Here too the corps is on it’s toes – with stellar performances by Sambé, Luca Acri and Meaghan Grace Hinkis.
The quadruple bill may have done better with Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour which, though seen twice last season, has everything Strapless lacks. Despite this though, the Hayward/Sambé duo and Yanowsky’s incredible stage presence make this bill more than bearable.
The mixed bill remains in rep until 31 May, 2017. For tickets, casting and further details please visit the website of the Royal Opera House.
[Featured Image: Francesca Hayward and Marcelino Sambé in Tarantella. Photo: Alastair Muir (2017)]