A lorra, lorra Ashton* [Royal Ballet Mixed Bill]

*Imagine that said with in my best Cilla Black impression

Trips to the Opera House are somewhat along the lines of buses: none for ages then all of them at once. It seems no time at all since I was leaving floating on a cloud of ALL THE EMOTION after Onegin and then there I was last night back again for the first night of the Ashton mixed bill. Things have happened in the interim – mostly being chained to my kitchen and work and stuff but it really does feel like I barely turned round before being faced with an evening of five Ashton pieces. Let’s face it though, that’s not the kind of evening to be sniffed at – especially given that three of them were new on me.

The opener, La Valse, wasn’t a new one on me but still wonderfully, swirlingly charming nonetheless. It was one I’d struggled to recall from the recesses of my mind and I still wasn’t sure it was the one I was thinking of… anyway, the only thing to say on that really is: Bennet Gartside, surely the safest pair of hands in the Royal Ballet? His partnering truly is exemplary. La Valse was followed by two gala pieces: Meditation from Thais and Voices of Spring. Meditation was interesting, Leanne Benjamin utterly exquisite (to the point her lines make me want to cry, I swear she has truly got some monopoly on the Fountain of Eternal Youth). The veil seemed to be a bit of a hazard though, I think I’ll have to add it to the Princess’ apples in Firebird and every maypole in every ballet ever in the ‘list of props that bother me in ballets’.

Voices of Spring deserves its own paragraph because… OH MY YUHUI CHOE AND ALEXANDER CAMPBELL. Their megawatt grins alone could have powered the entire Royal Opera House. It was just utterly, utterly happy and joyful and one of those pieces that gives you a warm and cosy feeling in your tummy. And there were petals! They came on scattering flower petals! I kid you not, it was a beautiful piece. Charming, a little quirky and just stunning.

Monotones I and II, I have a sneaking suspicion, is one that will need a repeat viewing because I found myself labouring under very mixed feelings about it. It’s an… odd piece, set to music by Satie (which is glorious) but the choreography left me swinging wildly between “OH HOW JOYOUS” and “OH NO WHAT ARE YOU DOING?!” Confusion, verily it is me. Emma Maguire, Akane Takada and Dawid Trzensimiech were gloriously in tune for Monotones I, if a little hampered by their costumes which, unfortunately, made me think of frogs and I couldn’t quite get past that… Marianela Nuñez, Edward Watson and Federico Bonelli were quietly explosive in Monotones II. I particularly enjoyed the juxtaposition of Watson’s slightly ethereal, elastic-ness beside Bonelli’s more earthy stance. There are words that I want to say about Monotones but mostly I find that I don’t quite know what they are other than ‘I quite want to see this again’.

Marguerite and Armand… or the return of the prodigals? Or Marg&Arm as I like to refer to it. Anyway, this run of M&As features Tamara Rojo (who absconded to be Big Cheese at ENB) in her official farewell performances and Sergei Polunin (who simply absconded) in his. I saw them perform this back in 2011 and, when I tried to bring it back to mind, I could really only recall the appalling wigs for Marguerite’s suitors and the fact there was a slightly daft plot. Again a sterling example of: never trust the boy in ballet tights, always marry the solid, sensible looking guy with the ludicrous hair. To be honest, apart from the ridiculous wigs, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was expecting about the performance. In fact I’d managed to convince myself I was seeing Yanowsky/Bonelli rather than Rojo/Polunin and I’m not so sure that helped. I found myself caught somewhere between ALL THE FEELINGS and just simply… whelmed, neither under nor over. La Rojo was sublime, Polunin I just found a bit hit and miss. There were moments of brilliance and moments of ‘meh’. Maybe it was nerves or uncertainty or something at the beginning on his part, I don’t know. It did get better as it went on and the deathbed pas de deux at the end did hit exactly the right spot. I guess it can’t be easy coming back after you’ve been gone a while. Despite my ‘no expectations’ I fear I may have expected more.

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