The Royal Ballet

June 23, 2004

The Royal Ballet
Linbury Theatre, Royal Opera House

London, England

June 23, 2004

Reviewed by Margaret Willis


To celebrate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the great Russian impresario Serge Diaghilev’s death, The Royal Ballet’s director, Monica Mason, invited five young choreographers to create small-scale ballets, drawing inspiration from his life and work.

Cathy Marston, one of Britain’s most prolific freelance choreographers, chose Venice, where Diaghilev is buried, as her theme. To a commissioned score by Judith Bingham for saxophone and countertenor, her Venetian Requiem remembers, in a fluid duet, both the Russian’s great love of the city and his fear of water and drowning. Lauren Cuthbertson, in pond-green tulle, wrapped herself like a lapping tide around a haunted Edward Watson as the eerie tones of the musical duo predicted the tragedy.

RB artist Vanessa Fenton’s On Public Display, seemingly a reimagined Petrushka, combined blasts of fairground music with Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and dressed the dancers in commedia dell’arte costumes for the rituals of magical manipulation and unrequited love.

The springboard for RB Principal Character Artist Alastair Marriott’s contribution was the score of L’Envoi d’Icare by Diaghilev’s last “discovery,” Igor Markevitch. Putting dancers in snazzy yellow swim caps and gloves, in Being and Having Been, he hinted at the Icarus story and encapsulated moments from many of the Ballets Russes’ great works.

Toronto’s Matjash Mrozewski focused on Diaghilev himself (danced by a dapper Joshua Tuifua), cramming A World of Art with slick vignettes and characters from the era, including Karsavina (Deirdre Chapman) and Nijinsky (Ricardo Cervera), who performed for Diaghilev and his guests in a mannered Maryinsky style that contrasted with Mrozewski’s otherwise swirling choreography.

Robert Lloyd Garland’s Rite was a tribute to both the impresario and Mason, herself an unforgettable Chosen One in MacMillan’s Rite of Spring. However, this Dance Theatre of Harlem dancer moved his goalposts, transforming the earthbound jumping of a pagan ceremony to classical erectness en pointe in a Cabaret-influenced, 1930s Berlin setting. The dancers, in bobbed black wigs and short black shifts, led by a vampish Leanne Benjamin as the sage, moved with jazzy nightclub chic but were challenged to keep pace with Stravinsky’s fierce rhythms.

Although the evening offered interesting, contrasting glimpses of the Ballets Russes era, the standard of choreography fell short of Diaghilev’s vision. However, it did show that The Royal’s very fine dancers are carrying on his heritage.

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