Sunday, 8 March 2020

The Royal Ballet's "Onegin"

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Royal Ballet Onegin Royal Opera House 18 Jan 2020, 13:30

The last time I saw the Royal Ballet's Onegin, I wrote:
"That night I saw something wonderful. Cranko's Onegin danced by Matthew Golding in the title role, Natalia Osipova as Tatiana, Matthew Ball as Lensky and Bennet Gartside as Prince Gremin. It was quite simply the most enjoyable performance by the Royal Ballet that I had seen since the days of Sibley and Dowell." (See Onegin: the most enjoyable performance that I have seen at the House since Sibley and Dowell 21 Feb 2015).
Although I knew what to expect and saw a very different interpretation with Thiago Soares in the title role, Itziar Mendizabal as Tatiana, David Donnelly as Lensky and Meaghan Grace Hinkis as Olga, I was as thrilled second time around as I had been the first time I saw the ballet.

As before, it was the choreography that thrilled me.  In my 2015 review, I described John Cranko as my favourite choreographer of all time and so he remains.   I said: "Cranko understood and interpreted music in a way that produces a fluency that is instantly recognizable but hard to describe".  But that was not all.  I added:  "He was also a great storyteller with a sense of humour."  Not so much humour perhaps as in The Taming of the Shrew which remains my favourite work by Cranko but there is a great story of which many of us in the English speaking world would otherwise have been unaware.

Soares's Onegin was very different from Golding's.  I had described Goldring's portrayal as "steely, amoral but ultimately foolish" but I saw complexities in Onegin's character that I had missed before.  I believe that he was conflicted and he had certainly matured between his duel with Lensky and his reacquaintance with Tatiana in St Petersburg.  Maybe I would have picked that up from seeing the ballet again but I am not sure.  Soares has the ability to communicate mood and maybe even thought.

I also learnt something new about Tatiana from Mendizabal. With Osipova I sensed revenge in the last act but Mendizabal seemed much more conflicted. It was if she still had feelings for Onegin despite the way he had humiliated her at her party and the quite unnecessary duel with Lemsky. She must have known that running away with him would have ruined her.  She would have thought that if he was capable of dropping her once he could do it again.  She had a good husband.  All that anyone could want.  And yet,  She was tempted.  Happily, she listened to her head rather than her heart and sent Onegin packing.  Some ballets do have a happy ending.

Grace Hinkis was a great Olga and Donnelly a loyal but headstrong Lensky.  Watching the run-up to the duel was like watching a video of a train crash in slow motion. A bit like the scene in Romeo and Juliet where Mercution picks a fight with Tybalt that possibly end well.     

There are some steps for the corps that must require lots of rehearsing. For instance, the folk dance towards the end of Act I with the girls' jetés on the arms of their partners who march off stage but do not run.

Jurgen Rose's set designs, particularly of the outdoor scenes and especially the venue for the duel, impressed me as much as they did the first time I saw them. The first rays of dawn were a triumph of lighting design.  The costumes were gorgeous.  I am not a big fan of rearranging music that was never intended for dance I make an exception for Kurt-Heinz Stoltze's score.

I had expected the matinee to be eclipsed by English National Ballet's gala at the Coliseum which I saw a few hours later but, if anything, it was the other way round.  Onegin is a great classical ballet created in our own time which is why so many leading companies around the world stage it.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

Hampson's Masterpiece: The Snow Queen

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Scottish Ballet The Snow Queen Theatre Royal, Glasgow, 11 Jan 2020

I have been following the company now known as Scottish Ballet for nearly 60 years. The first ballet of theirs I can remember is Peter Darrell's Mods and Rockers which was quite unlike any ballet that I had ever seen before. It has staged some great works since such as Darrell's version of The Nutcracker, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa A Streetcar Named Desire, Christopher Hampson's Cinderella and David Dawson's Swan Lake. However, as I tweeted immediately after seeing the show, The Snow Queen is its creator's best work yet and one of the company's best ever,
The ballet is based loosely on Hans Christian Andersen's tale. Hampson inserts a prologue to explain the Snow Queen's meanness. That is permissible just as the spurning of her stepsister's flowers in Christopher Wheeldon's Cinderella is permissible to explain the girls' dislike of Cinderella.   The score is an arrangement of Rimsky Korsakov by Richard Honner. The designs which were breathtaking were created by Lez Brotherson. A work by Brotherson, Hampson and Honner could hardly fail and I had high hopes for it but it exceeded my expectations greatly.

Hampson's libretto creates three big female roles as well as some interesting supporting ones.  There is the Snow Queen herself who features strongly at the start and end.  Her sister is the Summer Princess.  While the siblings live together, all is harmony but when the Summer Princess sets off to explore the world the personality of the Snow Queen changes.  She becomes disorientated, resentful and vindictive.  Her sister disguises herself and calls herself Lexi as she scours the world for Kai.  Her rival for his affection is Gerda.  Kai is the lead male role but there are also solo roles for the men such as the ringmaster, strong man, clowns and bandit leader as well as bandits and townsfolk for male members of the corps. 

The Snow Queen was danced by guest artist, Katlyn Addison, a first soloist with the American Ballet West which is based in Salt Lake City, Utah and not to be confused with the school and company of the same name at Taynuilt in Argyll.  The Summer Princess or Lexi was danced by Grace Horler. and Gerda by Araminta Wraith.  Horler and Wraith I had seen before and were already favourites of mine. Particularly Wraith who had impressed me in character roles such as Cinderella's stepmother and Hansel and Gretel's mum as well as for her classical technique in what I think must have been The Nutcracker not too long after she had joined the company.  This was the first time I had seen Addison and I sincerely hope it will not be the last.  I have made a mental note to include Salt Lake City in my itinerary for a future holiday in America. 

Kai was danced by Evan Loudon who first impressed me in the Emergence and MC 14/22 double bill at Sadler's Wells in 2017.  Kai is a complex character combining the most attractive masculine attributes with the most infuriating.  An accomplished dance actor, Loudon discharged that role with flair.  Other dancers I noted immediately after the performance include Nicolas Shoesmith who was the ringmaster and Rimbaud Patron as the bandit leader.  All danced well and all are to be congratulated.   So, too, are the orchestra and their conductor Jean-Claude Picard. 

 The Scots have an onomatopoeic adjective for miserable weather - dreichThe evening of 11 Jan was as dreich a night in Glasgow as ever there could be.  The thunderous applause from an audience that had already been drenched to the skin and chilled to the bone says it all.