Thursday, 7 April 2016

The Royal Ballet's New Season

Royal Opera House

The Royal Opera House announced its 2016-2017 season yesterday and released a video of a discussion between Kasper Holten and Kevin O'Hare about their respective companies' offerings. So far as ballet is concerned the season starts well with La Fille mal gardée and ends well with three glorious works by Ashton. There are also one or two treasures in between like Jewels but it also includes one not very welcime surprise.

I am talking, of course, about the revival of Anastasia which I saw in 1971 and which I have never been tempted to see again. According to the performance database there have been two productions. The first by Sir Kenneth MacMillan ran between 22 July 1971 and 1 Dec 1993 and the second, produced by his widow, between 2 May 1996 and 12 May 2004. The work is about Anna Anderson who claimed to be the Archduchess Anastasia a member of the Romanov family who had ruled Russia until the revolution.  We now know from DNA tests that Anderson was an imposter and that the grand duchess almost certainly died with the rest of her family at Ekaterinberg but that was not known for certain in 1967 when Sir Kenneth created the first version of the ballet.

It is a very long time since I saw the work but I distinctly remember some film and some very dissonant music. Nowadays that would be commonplace. We would probably call it multimedia. In the pre-digital 1970s it was unusual. I saw it when I was in my early twenties when I would have been my most receptive to new ideas. If I didn't take to it then I am quite unlikely to take to it now. I gave Nixon's Swan Lake a second chance last month and found that the judgment that I had formed in 2004 had not changed (see Up the Swannee 17 March 2016). One of the threads of an internet forum to which I subscribe and occasionally contribute was "What is your LEAST favourite ballet?" to which I wrote that it was a dead heat between Northern Ballet's Swan Lake and Beauty and the Beast and Anastasia. Beauty and the Beast is also about to be revived.  If I say that Jonathan Watkins's 1984 which I have seen twice is not too far behind you will understand that 2016 will not have been a very good year in that regard.

However, that is all a matter of taste and my taste may not be your taste. Each of the ballets on my "least favourite" list has its aficionados some of whom are surprised and even a little hurt to find someone with a contrary view. Anastasia has not exactly been big box office over the last 50 years but that may change as it is to be streamed to cinemas on 2 Nov 2016.  I shall not be traipsing down to London to see it and I will have to be at a very loose end even to take the bus to the Huddersfield Odeon.

One ballet that is definitely worth a trek to London is The Sleeping Beauty. This is one of my favourite ballets but one that I was surprised to find on quite a lot of subscribers' least favourite list. I have already seen a very creditable performance by the Chelmsford Ballet (see A Real Beauty: Chelmsford Ballet's The Sleeping Beauty 25 March 2016) and I am about to watch Sir Peter Wright's production for the Hungarian Ballet in Budapest (see The Hungarian National Ballet's Sleeping Beauty 24 Feb 2016). Funny isn't it that ballets like buses seem to come along in threes. I can see why some folk don't like it. It is a bit long and the story of the disappearance of a whole kingdom is even more unbelievable than girls morphing into swans or wilis but, hey ho, the music is lovely and divertissements like the bluebird pas de deux are among the most enchanting in dance.

Even more worthy of an awayday to the Smoke will be Balanchine's Jewels which will be running this time next year. Balanchine is one of my favourite choreographers and Jewels along with Serenade are among my favourite works. I missed Jewels when the Dutch National Ballet did it last season and also in the cinema when it was streamed from Moscow as I was travelling up from High Wycombe after seeing the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Giselle. Wild horses won't keep me from Covent Garden this time.

Having enjoyed Wayne McGregor's Chroma when performed by the Dutch National Ballet as part of its Cool Britannia triple bill last year (see Going Dutch 29 June 2015) I am looking forward to the Wayne McGregor triple bill (Chroma / New Wayne McGregor / Carbon Life) in November. I am also looking forward to new works by McGrego's protégés, Charlotte Edmonds and Robert Binet in the Clore Studio. I have already been introduced to their works by the Dutch National Ballet Junior Company (see The Dutch National Ballet Junior Company's best Performance yet 8 Feb 2015 and Ballet Bubbles 16 Feb 2016). If these young choreographers are good enough for Ernst Meisner and his outstanding young dancers then they are good enough for me.

The Christmas show this year will be The Nutcracker again. This is in honour of Sir Peter Wright's 80th birthday. It will be just as I like it with a real Clara Stahlbaum (not Edwards) somewhere in Mittleeuropa and not on the banks of the Thames, no balloons, no rodents hanging on into Act II, a Columbine and Harlequin, a Sugar Plum Fairy and her cavalier and all the usual divertissements. As reassuring as turkey with all the trimmings, Christmas pud and mince pies.

Woolf Works, another McGregor ballet, is to be revived. I missed it first time round largely because I find Virginia Woolf's Orlando a bit too close to the bone. Those who have read the book and know me will understand why. But the ballet has been received enthusiastically and the video of McGregor's rehearsal with Edward Watson indicates why. So maybe I shall give it a try this time round.

Another triple bill by David Dawson, Christopher Wheeldon and Crystal Pite (The Human Seasons / Aftethe Rain / New Crystal Pite) comes next, followed by MacMillan's Mayerling, a new work by Liam Scarlett as well as Forsythe, Balanchine and Wheeldon (The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude / Tarantella / Strapless / New Liam Scarlet) and finally the piece de resistance,  The Dream / Symphonic Variations / Marguerite and Armand).

A lot of new work this season together with some old favourites. Something for everyone and quite enough to keep me happy. Happily the Dutch National Ballet will be dancing La Bayadere in November which is just about the same time as Anastasia so I have a lot to relish and little to dread.

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