Les Patineurs/Winter Dreams/The Concert: Royal Ballet

Happy New Year everyone! My first theatre trip of 2019 was to – where else? – the newly revamped Royal Opera House. I hadn’t visited since their Open Up project was completed, so I was very excited to check out their new look spaces.

I didn’t go through the whole building, but noted the following:

The space beneath the Paul Hamlyn Hall has been transformed into a sleek café/bar area, minimalist and wooden (apart from the giant cherry suspended in the window); the balcony overlooking Covent Garden has been glazed and heated to provide more all-weather seating; the shop has some gorgeous new stock (including heavenly black and white prints of the dancers and cut offs from the costume department) and best of all, there are costumes, sketches and photos on display everywhere. It’s a clever marriage of the recognisable old and the shiny new, and I hope it does the job for the ROH and pulls in more day visitors.

Aside from gawking at the building’s makeover, I was there to see a mixed programme of works: Jerome Robbins’ comedy The Concert (which was one of the first things I reviewed on this blog, way back in 2014!), Ashton’s Les Patineurs and Winter Dreams by Kenneth MacMillan.

Les Patineurs is a charming Victorian Christmas card of a ballet, where dancers decked in bonnets and furs spin, slide and skim across an ice rink under snow-dusted trees. There’s glowing lanterns. There’s jingling bells (and a jolly score by Meyerbeer). There’s even falling snow. If The Nutcracker didn’t exist (heaven forbid), this would be an excellent alternative for a festive ballet fix.

Dancers glide on and off stage, overlapping solos and group dances to create a natural impression of skaters out to have fun on a winter’s afternoon. Yuhui Choe and Anna Rose O’Sullivan are particularly perky as the girls in navy, while Marcelino Sambé puts on a bravura show as the Blue Boy – his final turns as the curtain closes are dizzyingly fast.

It’s quite a jump from the whimsical, picturesque Ashton to MacMillan’s work, which is the only one in the programme I hadn’t seen previously. Packing the plot of Chekhov’s Three Sisters into one 55 minute ballet is a tall order, and I have to admit to being a bit confused about who was in love with who for a lot of it.

Episodic interactions between characters – the titular sisters and their family, husbands and lovers – take place in front of a thin curtain, behind which guests are gathered around the table for dinner. The candlelit glow of this scene contrasts starkly with the dark, bare stage on which the relationships play out. Yasmine Naghdi is lovely as Irina, the sister with two lovers; Christopher Saunders gets a chance to flaunt his comedic skills – and his flexibility! – as the drunken army doctor; and Sarah Lamb deserves praise for dancing Masha beautifully at very short notice. It was also nice to see Thiago Soares performing (as Masha’s soldier lover) for the first time in a while.

The score includes traditional Russian music played on balalaika, which adds an authentic flavour to the story, but overall I was a little underwhelmed by the work – perhaps because there wasn’t space to allow the characters to grow and the plot to unravel. I’d definitely like to see it again before I make up my mind though!

 

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