Monday, 12 June 2017

Saying goodbye to Zenaida

Standard YouTube Licence

The Royal Ballet  The Dream, Symphonic Variations and Marguerite and Armand encore, Leeds Showcase, 11 June 2017

Yesterday, I found a movie theatre that showed last Wednesday's performance of The Dream, Symphonic Variations and Marguerite and Armand. I had missed the live transmission because I was in Preston that day watching Ballet Cymru dance Darius James's A Midsummer Night's Dream (see "A Most Rare Vision ...... A Dream" 8 June 2017).  I had intended to see Ballet Cymru on Saturday in Sale but that was the only day I could get to London to see Scottish Ballet's Emergence and MC 14/22. I had already dashed down to London to hear Christopher Hampson's interview with Gerald Dowler at the London Ballet Circle. There was also the little matter of a general election at which I like many other voters did my best to make sure that the blighters who had failed to stand up to their Eurosceptics last year and who had opportunistically sought to take advantage of a commanding lead in the opinion polls this year got their comeuppance.

Sir Frederick Ashton had created The Dream in 1964 to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's birth.  I remember that year well because it was the year I took my "O" levels one of which was English literature which included a compulsory Shakespeare play, Birmingham Royal Ballet revived The Dream last year to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death. When I think of all the plays and sonnets that he crammed into that short life I admire that genius all the more. I love that ballet particularly because it was created for Dame Antoinette Sibley, my favourite ballerina of all time, and Sir Anthony Dowell, my favourite male dancer. I cannot hear Mendelssohn's music without memories of those two flooding back. It was wonderful to see footage of Sir Anthony coaching Steven McRae and Akane Takada. I nearly blubbed like a baby when I saw him again embracing Zenaida Yanowsky.

The other ballet with special memories was Marguerite and Armand. Ashton had created it for Fonteyn and Nureyev and they danced it at the gala for Sir Fred's retirement as director of the Royal Ballet on 24 July 1970. I know because I was there. You can see a picture of Sir Fred on stage with the company in the Royal Ballet's album on Flickr. Fonteyn's role was danced on Wednesday by Yanowsky and Nureyev's by Roberto Bolle. They are very different from Fonteyn and Nureyev but they seem to have conquered that ballet and made it their own. "Regal" was the adjective that sprang to mind several times as I watched Yanowsky trace the familiar steps. She is tall. She is graceful. She is grand. Bolle is much more believable as Armand than Nureyev ever was. He danced the role. Bolle lived it. Two other greats danced solo roles - Cristopher Saunders as Armand's father and Gary Avis as the duke.

I first saw Symphonic Variations 20 years after it was first performed and it already had a period feel. Perhaps the swirling isobars backdrop and the tennis dress tutus.  But many of the original cast - Pamela May, Moira Shearer, Margot Fonteyn, Brian Shaw and Michael Somes were still dancing. Only Henry Danton had retired. Ironically they were all survived by Danton who appeared in the recording still handsome and, seemingly, with all his faculties intact.  It was a joy to see this grand old man. He had retired before I started following ballet so I never saw him dance but I have seen his photos and what a dish he must have been.

However, the most memorable part of the performance was not the dancing but Zenaida Yanowsky;s curtain call. Flowers were everywhere. First from the House's flunkies (whatever happened to the powdered wings and knee breeches of my youth), then from the premiers danseurs nobles  (tears welled up when I saw Carlos Acosta), he was followed by Ed Watson (more tears) and they flowed like a New York fire hydrant when Anthony Dowell embraced her as a daughter and finally a floral blizzard from the balcony. Goodbyes are something the House does particularly well. I am sure there are goodbyes at The Stopera, the Palais Garnier, the Met but they can't be as they are at Covent Garden.

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