Review: Royal Ballet triple bill

Royal Ballet Triple Bill Royal Opera House, Covent Garden ****

The Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill is one of the most rewarding, beautifully balanced programmes we have seen in a long while.

Asphodel Meadows, by Liam Scarlett received it’s premiere in May 2010, the first work by a young choreographer that announced a fully fledged talent. To call it promising would be patronising: danced to Poulanc’s Concerto for two pianos and orchestra it is a work supremely well realised, worthy of a lasting place in the repertoire.

Each of the three movements is led by three main couples , with a corps de ballet of seven other couples. Scarelt’s choreography is perfectly attuned to the changing moves and tempo’s of the music, with subtle inflexions of emotional involvement. John MacFarlane has provided a minimalist decor of shifting vertical beams of light against a black and whit backcloth suggesting a wood in winter. The accomplished pianists were Robert Clark and Kate Shiplay.

Frederick Ashton’s realisation of Edward Edlagr’s Enigma Variations introduces us to all of Elgar’s

“Friends Pictured Within,” a parade of eccentric characters as well as Elgar himself, his wife and

A J Jaeger, (Nimrod) all rejoicing when the telegram arrives saying that Hans Richter had agreed to conduct the work’s first performance.

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From a large, talented cast I must mention Christopher Saunders as Elgar, Bennet Gartside as Jaeger,

Edward Watson as Arthur Troyte Griffith, Roberta Marquez as Dora Penny, and Jose Martin as George Robinson Sinclair. The artists of the Royal Ballet are unparalleled in such beautifully detailed ensemble playing. Julia Trevelyan Oman’s clever inside/outside designs create the perfect Edwardian mise en scene.

If Enigma Variations epitomises the last days of Empire, Kenneth MacMillan’s Gloria reveals the catastrophy of the First World War that loomed on the horizon. Inspired by Vera Brittains Testament of Youth, we see the ghosts of the soldiers that died on that horrendous bloodbath mourned by their womenfolk, the mothers, the wives , sisters and girlfriends left behind.

Danced to the ironically triumphant music of Poulanc’s Gloria from the Catholic Mass, the men, dressed in blood-soaked body suits and tin hats, the woman in silver grey leotards with floating panels, appear from behind a slope, over the top, like soldiers emerging from the trenches or spirits form their graves. The scene is in six sections, some fast, some slow, some elegiac, some exultant.

The soprano solo Domine Deus provides the main pas de deux, beautifully danced by Sarah Lamb and Thiago Soares, with Laura Morera, Valeri Hristov, Kenta Kura and Johannes Stepanek risking in the exuberant Domine Fili Unigenite, and Carlos Acosta the anguished leading soldier. Madeleine Dierard was the splendid solo soprano, with the Royal Opera House orchestra and chorus directed by Barry Wordsworth.

MacMillans potent ballet refers to World War One, and happily it resonated all too heart-achingly with our own times.