ASHTON : LEST WE FORGET

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Ashton Remembered - the second of this season's Royal Ballet tributes to the company's founder-choreographer - is, like last month's Ashton Celebration, a peculiarly unschematic but riveting exposition of the diversity of Ashton's output. Spanning some 50 years of his career, the programme consists of four dusted-down, rarely-performed items - "Air" from Homage to the Queen, La Chatte Metamorphosee en Femme, and the Thais and Raymonda pas de deux - sandwiched between The Dream and Facade. That th e ecstatically lyrical love duet for Oberon and Titania in The Dream could have been created by the same choreographer who, some 30 years earlier, produced the disarmingly satirical revue of popular dance forms in Facade, or the charming nonsense of La C hatte(in 1985), or the grand classicism of the Raymonda pas de deux (in 1962), is testament not only to the scope of Ashton's imagination but to the longevity of his inventive genius.

The Dream, set to John Lanchbery's arrangement of Mendelssohn's incidental music for Shakespeare's play, was made for Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell in 1964 and fermented their professional partnership. Although no less capable or resourceful, Viviana Durante and Bruce Sansom don't really fuse as Titania and Oberon: Sansom puts in the stronger and more musically-sensitive performance, devoid of the gestural fussiness which seems to afflict Durante. While Sansom properly inhabits the ballet, Durant e seldom does more than exist in it. When, for instance, she darts into ara-besque and then suddenly melts into Sansom's arms, it is his echo of that moment of surrender that distracts our eyes from Durante's busy, self-concerned adjustments of upper bod y.

Draped across Stuart Cassidy's shoulders in the Thais pas de deux, Durante manages to swoon more naturally than she does in The Dream, but by far the more radiant physical expression of the evening belongs to Darcey Bussell, caught in a range of startling configurations with Zoltn Solymosi in the Raymonda pas de deux.

Returning to the stage after a long injury, Bussell seemed more cautious than usual. Yet with typical authority and applomb, she gave a brilliant demonstration of the choreography's speedy intricacies.

In the "Air" duet from Homage to the Queen - Ashton's "Coronation" ballet - Deborah Bull and William Trevitt were suitably majestic as Queen and Consort; Bull's steely presence providing an intriguing contrast to Trevitt's relaxed allegiance. In La Chatte, Mara Galeazzi (replacing Sarah Wildor), veered amusingly between the mannerisms of cat and woman until finally overcome by the sight of a remote-control mouse. But, next to the arch-comedy of Facade, La Chatte looks a minor party piece. Few of Facade'

s jokes have waned over time: the milkmaid scene, in which three men form an imaginary cow is an ingenious conceit, as is the keyboard-fingering, wandering hand of the Dago, spendidly interpreted by Stephen Jefferies in this welcome revival.

n At the ROH, 15 / 17 Dec.

Box-office: 071-304 4000

Sophie Constanti

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