The Royal Ballet’s 70th season culminates with a triple bill of Frederick Ashton: The Dream, Symphonic Variations and Marguerite and Armand. It’s a programme that shows off all his choreographic breadth, perfectly showcases the dancers and includes two of my favourite works.
I won’t say too much about The Dream, because it’s still as sparkling and lively and magical as when I first reviewed it here. Akane Takada – once again standing in for an injured Sarah Lamb – makes a coquettish Titania, while Itziar Mendizabal is brilliantly expressive as Helena in a quartet of strong comic performances from the lovers.
We move from a glittering fairy-filled forest to the pared down simplicity of Symphonic Variations, a non-narrative work for just six dancers. Watching Marianela Nunez, Vadim Muntagirov and the rest of the cast dance to the piano music of Cesar Franck is supremely satisfying – Ashton’s choreography is almost paint by numbers, it’s so meticulous. The white Grecian costumes give the dancers the appearance of classical statues as they pose, chins raised and arms held across the body – Vadim Muntagirov is particularly elegant. The whole work lasts just 20 minutes, which is a shame, but I have to admit to preferring Ashton’s other non-narrative ballets – the serene Monotones, or the exhilarating Rhapsody.
The programme concludes with the heartbreaking Marguerite and Armand, which moved me to tears when I first saw it a few years ago (starring Sergei Polunin, no less). Ashton manages to pack an intense narrative arc into just 35 minutes, as we watch the doomed lovers meet, fall in love and briefly enjoy their happiness before Marguerite is persuaded to reject Armand. Zenaida Yanowsky and Roberto Bolle are perfectly matched as the lovers, wringing every ounce of passion and desperation out of Ashton’s choreography. Their final pas de deux, which sees a dying Marguerite finally reconciled with Armand, is as close to Kenneth MacMillan as Ashton gets.
All of this was rendered even more moving by the fact that, on the night that I was watching, it was Zenaida Yanowsky’s final performance with the Royal Ballet. The audience stood up in their seats as flowers rained down on the stage, and each one of Yanowsky’s partners past and present came on to the stage to present her with bouquets. It was a real privilege to be there on such a special night. I mean, it’s not every day that you get to see Carlos Acosta, Jonathan Cope and Sir Anthony Dowell lined up on the same stage is it?