Thursday, 19 November 2015

Au Revoir but not Adieu

Embedded pursuant to YouTube's standard licence

I was very tempted to attend the Royal Ballet's mixed programme to see Carlos Acosta's last performance on the main stage of Covent Garden on Thursday night for I was offered a ticket for the grand circle for only £100. The reason I was tempted was that I knew that I would see a little piece of balletic history. But then I would have missed Phoenix Dance Theatre at the Royal Opera House and I knew that that would be good too. Torn though I was I opted for Phoenix (see The Phoenix Soars over London 13 Nov 2015) as they are from Leeds. I see them nearly every time I attend an adult ballet class. Some of these classes even take place in their studios.

One of the reasons why I chose to watch Phoenix in the Linbury was that I knew the mixed bill would be filmed and that I would get a chance to see that film at the Huddersfield Odeon on Sunday, That is what I did. The Royal Opera House HDTV transmissions have just about got it right now. The show was introduced by Fiona Bruce who is an experienced TV presenter. Darcey Bussell interviewed Carlos Acosta and Kevin O'Hare and contributed anecdotes from her experience as a principal dancer. The programme consisted of four ballets: Liam Scarlett's Viscera. Jerome Robbins's Afternoon of a Faun, Tchaikowsky Pas de Deux by Balanchine and Carlos Acosta's Carmen. It was a thrilling programme showing the Royal Ballet at its best.

Ever since I heard Laura Morera's talk to the London Ballet Circle I have wanted to see Viscera (see Laura Morera 25 Aug 2015). Although the work was commissioned by Miami City Ballet it is associated with Morera in this country.  In the cinema transmission Morera was accompanied by Ryoichi Hirano and Marianela NuñezViscera is a spectacular ballet in three movements. It reminds me very much of David Dawson's Empire Noir which I saw in Amsterdam as part of the Dutch National Ballet's Cool Britannia programme earlier in the year  (see Going Dutch 29 June 2015) in that everything except the second movement is done on the double. There were spectacular turns and jumps by in the first and last movements and a delicious duet in the middle with the most delicate lifts and holds. The ballet was set to Lowell Liebermann's First Piano Concerto. You can get a taste of Liebermann's work from this concert performance of the third movement on this YouTube video.

Viscera was followed by an interval which showed an interview of Carlos Acosta by Darcey Bussell over tea. Acosta spoke about his career in England: how he entered ballet largely on his father's insistence, his short time with the English National Ballet where he actually contemplated giving up dance, his audition with the Royal Ballet, his career with the company and the two works that he created for it. Bussell shone as Acosta's interviewer. She coaxed the story from Acosta adding her own reminiscences here and there. This is what she does well.

The next act consisted of Afternoon of a Faun and the Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux.  These are two short works by two of America's best known choreographers.  Robbins's Afternoon  shares the music and title of Nijinsky's L'Après-midi but, as can be seen from archive film of the Nijinsky's work and a video of the Ballett am Rhein's performance of Robbin's, the narratives are quite different.  I am not sure which work I prefer. The Robbins probably makes more sense as it is set in a dance studio with the audience acting as a mirror on the fourth wall. Nobody is dressed in an animal costume or moves like a faun. However, Nijinksky's work for Diaghilev has the rich backcloth by Leon Bakst. Afternoon was danced by Vadim Muntagirov and Sarah Lamb. This was the first time I had seen them together and they teamed up well. Balanchine created the Pas de Deux from music that Tchaikovsky wrote originally for Swan Lake. It is a gorgeous work with male and female solos and a thrilling coda. It was danced magnificently by Steven McRae and Iana Salenko.

There followed quite a long interval when I went in search of a hot dog to avoid the tweets and trailers which is the one part of the Royal Opera House's transmission that I wish the House would drop. Towards the end there was a short interview of O'Hare by Bussell in which they discussed World Ballet Day, the career of Carlos Acosta and his latest work Carmen.  Then the curtain rose on the last Act which was Carlos Acosta's Carmen.

Acosta is not the first choreographer to transpose Prosper Mérimée's novella and Bizet's score into ballet. Roland Petit created a version for himself and Zizi Jeanmaire in 1949. So, too, did Alberto Alonso for the Bolshoi and the National Ballet of Cuba with Maya Plisetskaya in the lead  (see Wikipedia's Carmen Suite (Ballet)). Neither of those works has stuck and I am not sure why.  It seems that a full length opera does not translate easily into a one act ballet. Whether Acosta's work fares any better than his compatriot's or Roland Petit's remains to be seen. If it does not, it will not be for want of trying. Acosta threw just about everything bar the kitchen sink into the mix - voice, flamenco, contemporary and a new character called Fate danced by Matthew Golding. Surprisingly, Acosta found no role for Michaela which might have been an interesting one for a ballerina. I have mixed feelings about the work but it was certainly exciting. Acosta danced Don José, Nuñez was Carmen and Federico Bonelli Escamillo. Fiona Kimm sang the fortune teller's role.

Whatever the strengths of the work the audience loved it. As you can see from the above video there was a flower throw. O'Hare made a speech. The whole cast appeared on stage, It must have been one of those memorable evenings that the Royal Opera House does so well. I stayed in the auditorium for as long as the video of the applause continued long after everyone else had left with the ushers glancing pointedly at their watches. I felt that was the least I could do for Acosta who has given me and many others so much pleasure over his long career.

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