Bits and Pieces

"Napoli Divertissements”, “Rhapsody”, “La Sylphide”
Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
January 15 to February 9

by John Percival
copyright 2007, John Percival

The Royal Ballet has invented some odd programming this season. The latest example features a revival of last year's new production of the great Danish classic “La Sylphide”. I can understand why, fairly soon after the original run, they decided to give only seven performances, but why in that case split them up into two different bills? Principal dancer Johan Kobborg, who staged August Bournonville's romantic masterpiece, has now mounted some more Bournonville dances, mainly from “Napoli”, as a curtain raiser, but they get only three showings, which seems daft. At its other four performances “La Sylphide” is preceded by Frederick Ashton's “Rhapsody” — and, keeping up the absurdity, that's all the Ashton we get until the very end of the season.

This isn't a bad production of “La Sylphide”: the dancing is lively, the tragic story quite clearly told, although some of us remember more coherent stagings and more convincing presentation from other companies, both British and visiting from overseas. I've seen three of the four women taking the title part. The first two were both enchanting: Tamara Rojo the more dramatic, Alina Cojocaru more light and airy. With poor Kobborg injured again (so far he has missed all his scheduled appearances), Federico Bonelli partnered both of them, credibly enraptured. Viacheslav Samodurov wasn't bad either, in that role, but Sarah Lamb makes a sadly nondescript heroine. By far the best among variable supporting casts was Sorella Englund's gleefully wicked hag, the deadly Madge, although the production's suggestion, with a white underskirt, that she was once a sylph herself is highly implausible. Ricardo Cervera makes not a bad Gurn.

It would be good to have the complete “Napoli” in the RB repertoire, but it would need a more faithful presentation than the newly mounted excerpts. Kobborg has chosen to start with the vivacious ballabile from Act 1, but leaving out all the acting and filling the gaps with his own new dances, so we actually get more of his Bournonville imitation than of the real thing. Oddly, the beginning of the “Flower Festival at Genzano” duet is also stuffed in there. Then we get the “Napoli” pas de six, with its usual solos etc, and the final tarantella, but all these are staged with a lot of congestion that spoils their effect. I can understand that Kobborg wanted to concentrate on jollity and exhilaration, but earlier Danish, Swedish and even Scottish productions have achieved more of those qualities in the context of a more serious treatment.

In the circumstances it's not surprising that the cast show more energy and flirtatiousness than authentic flair. Marianela Nunez and Steven McRae carry off their numbers with such dash and neatness that they really deserve a more traditional staging, but poor Mara Galeazzi seemed to have been left without any slightest touch of the true style, and her alternate Alexandra Ansanelli hardly more so. I wonder how it happened that young Paul Kay, substituting one night in a solo, did better than most of the intended cast. Kobborg has designed the costumes himself: it's curious to put an entire ensemble in blue uniforms, but the soloists get a variety of colours. And it is fun to hear the jolly music of Helsted and Paulli.

Much the best of the week's dancing came in “Rhapsody”, not perhaps from the ensemble who sometimes looked overstretched, but certainly from the two leads. The ballet was made (in 1980) as a showpiece for a real star, Mikhail Baryshnikov; now Carlos Acosta provides equal thrills of both technique and stagecraft: less impetuous maybe but more elegant. I can't understand how some of our newspaper reviewers described Acosta as off form; he looked brilliant to me and other experienced spectators. Leanne Benjamin also dazzles in the ballerina role; between them, this couple provide enough glitter to make up for Jessica Curtis's dreary designs. How absurd that they have so few appearances (a substitute cast is announced for some nights) and that the company's greatest choreographer is so ludicrously under-represented all season.



Photos, all by Bill Cooper:
Front page: Stephen McRae in "Napoli Divertissements."
This page, top: Tamara Rojo and Frederico Bonelii in "La Sylphide."
Middle: Mara Galeazzi in "Napoli Divertissements."
Bottom: Carlos Acosta in "Rhapsody".

Volume 5, No. 4
January 22, 2007

copyright ©2007 John Percival

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