Frederick Ashton’s The Dream and Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of Earth. The two heavyweights of British choreography. In fact, time wise speaking, two heavyweight pieces as far as ‘short works’ go (The Dream tips the scales at ~50 minutes and Song of Earth at a little over an hour). Put them both together and you’ve got a fairly impressive looking double bill at the Opera House.
Following Sergei Polunin’s shock departure from the Royal Ballet last week, the key question on everyone’s lips was who was going to replace him as Oberon in The Dream. I admit, yes, I’d chosen this cast out of curiosity to see he and Alina Cojocaru together (well, I don’t know, maybe more just for Alina to see her in something less predisposed towards utterly breaking my heart – Giselle, I’m looking at you in particular). As Polunin was replaced by the amazing Steven McRae I won’t be arguing too loudly…
I love The Dream, I saw it on its last outing in, hmm, 2008 or was it 2009? Either way it was in a bill which featured the interminable disappointment that is Dances at a Gathering. Back to The Dream though, I’ve reached the conclusion that I can only handle Shakespeare in balletic form because there are no words and therefore my slightly shoddy attention span can focus properly on it. It has pretty much everything to commend it: comedy, romance, drama. There’s comedy fighting and some genuine full on ‘lol’ moments – mostly provided by Demetrius and Lysander’s ‘man fighting’ (think Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason only better).
Alina Cojocaru’s Tatiana is perfection, this is a fairy queen who knows exactly what she wants and exactly how she’s going to get it, despite her fairy king getting in a ‘man strop’ and trying to thwart her plans in dastardly fashion at every turn. Obviously, it being Alina, her dancing and technique is to die for (I am stopping myself just short of… oh hang it, OMGELEVENTYONESQUEE!!!ALINA!!!). Steven McRae’s Oberon was also brilliant – dignified (even in a ‘man strop’) and restrained, holding in that need to go all out at the steps in favour of keeping a regal distance. Their pas de deux was nothing short of genius. Jonathan Howells’ Bottom also deserves a notable mention (pun entirely intended) – it’s one of those rare ‘man en pointe’ roles, done for more slightly comedic effect to accompany the ass’ head he’s wearing, but Howells plays it with flair and almost an air of nonchalance as if to say ‘meh, I wear these every day’. However, if last week at Draft Works Valentino Zucchetti had been the stand out choreographer, last night he was the stand out dancer as Puck pulling off dazzling jumps and turns with panache and gusto and just the right amount of knowing look, cheeky wink mischievousness that Puck needs. Bravi, indeed.
On the other hand… Song of Earth. I’d picked my bill viewing based on The Dream’s casting rather than Song’s, this may have proved to be my downfall. Song is a looooooooong piece. I knew this, I had slight issues with this when I saw the Scottish Ballet dance it last autumn. The difference was, with the Scottish’s interpretation it took until the final song for the ‘oh dear this is really a bit too long’ sentiment to kick in. Last night it was there almost from the outset. Maybe it was two viewings too close together? I don’t know. I think maybe it’s more the Mahler-ness of it all and the over indulgent emo-ing about on the floor. Maybe I just didn’t connect with the cast in the same way as I did with the Scottish. I don’t even know. I just know I was mostly fidgety, a bit bored and staring at the ceiling more than normal. And this makes me sad, ballet is not meant to do this to me (even though it’s MacMillan and his ballets are like marmite).
I’m going to put my neck on the line here and say that Carlos Acosta just doesn’t do it for me. I can’t put my finger on it, I just don’t quite get him. Each to their own. On the plus side, for large parts of it I was able to ignore his emo-ing about in a mask and focus on what everybody else was doing. Which is where Rupert Pennefather comes in. Normally I’m a bit ‘well he’s good and solid and supportive but never going to quite set the world on fire’ about Rupert, I like his dancing and I’ll voluntarily go to watch it but I tend to prefer to elasticity and almost other worldliness of, say, Edward Watson or Steven McRae. Anyway, back to Rupert, it was almost as though this role had been made for him – the solid, earthly man who refuses to be beaten by death which really played to his ‘Mr Reliable’ strengths. Actually, it was interesting to compare him to Carlos here as they matched each other step for step, Rupert’s having something more solid and, in a way, ‘real’ to them. Tamara Rojo completed an impressive ‘big three’ line up but… Tamara, oh Tamara, I kept waiting to connect with her and… it didn’t happen. THIS MAKES MY FACE SO SAD YOU HAVE NO IDEA. Maybe I was too far up the back of the amph, maybe if I’d had binoculars, maybe… maybe… maybe… I want to find a reason for why. You may consider this face slumped in the doldrums.
I’m almost, but not quite, tempted to go again, see the other cast. I’m just not sure I can put myself through that much Mahler again.