Obsidian triple bill
Royal Opera House
Wednesday, 18th April 2018
Obsidian Tear – Marguerite and Armand – Elite Syncopations – 04/18/2018
OBSIDIAN TEAR: Benjamin Ella, Joseph Sissens, Reece Clarke, David Donnelly, Nicol Edmonds, Kevin Emerton, James Hay, Fernando Montano, Marcelino Sambé
MARGUERITE AND ARMAND:
Marguerite: Alessandra Ferri
Armand: Federico Bonelli
His father: Christopher Saunders
Bethena (Concert Waltz): Sarah Lamb, Ryoichi Hirano
Cascades: Yuhui Choe, Tierney Heap, Itziar Mendizabal
Hot House Rag: William Bracewell, Tristan Dyer, James Hay, David Yudes
Calliope Rag: Itziar Mendizabal
Golden Hours: Yuhui Choe, Tristan Dyer
Stoptime Rag: Sarah Lamb
Alaskan Rag: Tierney Heap, David Yudes
Friday Night: James Hay
Sunflower Slow Drag, Elite Syncopations, Ragtime Nightingale, Cataract Rag: the Company
How wonderful to finally have some warm weather over London! Yesterday has been such a fantastic sunny day and today temperatures are even going higher – isn’t it quite unbelievable if you think that the city was covered in deep deep deep deep snow just a month ago?
Well, after spending the day off checking on Kensington Palace’s Twitter hoping that the Duchess gives birth soon and a stroll through sun kissed Notting Hill, I headed to Covent Garden for the triple bill in high spirit despite barely surviving rush hour in the tube – there was no District and Circle line due to an earlier signal failure at Edgware Road, and Central line at 6.30 pm is pure hell.
It still feels unreal to enter the ROH in daylight, finally spring has really sprung in London Town. But also, can we please talk about how it’s unacceptable that Covent’s M&S has been closed down?! How am I supposed to survive now?
I am not the ultimate fan of mixed reps, but this Seasons’ last one promised to be a good one, featuring works by three Royal Ballet’s Resident Choreographers: Wayne McGregor’s Obsidian Tear, Sir Frederick Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, and Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations. Three ballets showing off the Company’s rich repertory and glory, as the dancers slayed throughout the whole programme pulling all the stops in such diverse and demanding choreographies. Yet, even though it was clear that the three works were programmed together as Royal Ballet’s defining choreographers’ pieces, I still was a bit unsure about the final contrast. I totally understand and love MacMillan and Ashton, but I feel like it’s a bit tricky and pretentious to set McGregor at their same stage. We had three really great pieces happening on stage, but albeit their being by a Royal resident choreographer, I did not see a connection between them… or better, the only common point among the three was not having something in common with the others.
First Royal Ballet revival for Wayne’s 2016 Obsidian Tear which opened the programme – the all male ballet set on music by Esa-Pekka Salonen was widely acclaimed at his premiere two years ago. The all male ballet featured nine dancers making a very strong cast, with Joseph Sissens debuting brightly and fluidly in the lead role – he’s just in his second year with the Company, but he has a bright future in front of him. The rest of the cast – Ben Ella, Reece Clarke, David Donnelly, Nicol Edmonds, Kevin Emerton, James Hay, Fernando Montano, Marcelino Sambé – danced fabulously, with Reece and Marci standing out. Good to see such a perfect David Donnelly as well. But, although sharply danced, I felt Obsidian Tear as a bit flat: yes, it contains amazing archaic and tribal features, but I did not see a real focus. The routines were beautifully melted with music, but the whole thing resulted ambiguous and pretentious. All those snips and even the costumes were a distraction, as all the nine dancers were dressed in different frocks – which I personally didn’t like as I could not see a reason in them. The stage setting too (open stage, with a red-orange fluorescent line in front) was very McGregor. I felt this ballet as a bit awkward among two narrative pieces by Ashton and MacMillan, as it’s so abstract. Nevertheless it also has a glimpse of narration as the audience can clearly get the group accepting Ben and sacrificing Joseph.
Marguerite and Armand is probably my least favourite among Ashton pieces, but it has a great emotional depth, and Italian superstars Alessandra Ferri and Federico Bonelli were simply amazing in the title roles.
I had already saw them in the same roles last June in the all-Ashton programme, and yes, Ashton may have created this passionate short ballet for the unique partnership of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev in 1963, but Alessandra and Federico were wonderful and there was such a chemistry between them and they worked wonders alongside each other! They portrayed so much drama on Liszt’s tempestuous and romantic Piano Sonata, as Marguerite laid on her deathbed recalling her romance with younger Armand in a series of flashbacks.
By watching them, it’s one of the few times I feel proud to be Italian (and it does not happen so often): they are such tremendous artists (any reference to other facts or persons is purely coincidental, if you want to believe that) and their amazing technique is strongly paired with so much emotion. Every Alessandra’s cough was painful, every Federico’s look had a feeling, and every meeting between them was a work of art and so full of meanings.
I’ve always thought that Alessandra could express a lifetime of emotion by simply moving, and yesterday night her fragility and grace really went straight to the audience’s souls. Her being mature was an added value, as she portrayed Marguerite amazingly. And Federico… he’s just marvelous, so dashing and perfect in all of his routines, probably in one of his best nights so far. There’s been a demonstration that there’s no age barrier (at least there’s not if at 55 you’re as exquisite as Ferri) and of lyricism (Federico was touching in the Ashtonian routines). I’m glad I was able to see them again, but I’m really looking forward to seeing Lauren and obviously Marianela as Marguerite. Shoutout to Marguerite’s dresses as well, in particular the black one: the gown created amazing eye-catching views as Federico made Alessandra twirling in the air.
MacMillan’s ever uplifting Elite Syncopations closed the programme – even though its duty was much easier this time, I still cannot forget last Autumn’s MacMillan Celebration programme when Elite had the hard aim of cheering up the spirits after a dark Gloria and a gripping Judas Tree. I’m seriously still upset about it. Thankfully, Elite shows no sign of dark drama or psychological acuteness of other MacMillan’s works (just to clarify: my favourite ballets are MacMillan’s but I’m more for Mayerling and Romeo and Juliet than for more appalling and shattering ones like the Judas’ Tree): Elite’s witty and cheerful in its setting of ragtime music and colourful outfits. Gracefully leading Royal on Scott Joplin’s witty score, played by on stage musicians, Sarah was on top form in the leading role, but my heart still recalls Yasmine’s stellar performances in October.
I loved the small touches Rio added to his role: strong with his solid, stately technique, he was a playful partner to Sarah as they dazzled on stage with their luscious dancing. Yuhui, Tierney and Itziar were great in The Cascades, but in the following Calliope Rag Itziar could have put more character to her role. On the contrary, Yuhui was absolutely delightful in the Golden Hours. Tierney showed off amazing turnout and musicality in her debut in the Alaskan Rag, and with David Yudes they were hilarious in their duo.
Mention to William Bracewell, who was so impressive as one of the four boys in Hot-House Rag alongside Tristan Dyer, David Yudes and James Hay – who was actually a bit in advance on music in the final piece, but did amazing in his Friday Night. The ensembles – Sunflower Slow Drag, Elite Syncopations, Ragtime Nightingale, Cataract Rag – danced by the Company, were amazing as usual.