Dance / Royal Ballet triple bill ROH, London

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The Independent Culture
Balanchine detector vans patrol the globe making quite sure that any ballet company planning to perform one of the master's works has a valid licence to do so. Anthony Dowell had allowed the Royal Ballet's rights to Apollo to lapse last year but planned to revive the work this spring regardless. Oh no you don't, said the Balanchine Trust. Not only does it safeguard the steps, costumes and staging of the productions in its care, it also exercises strict quality-control over casting. Although more than happy with Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope - not to mention NYCB's Igor Zelensky, who was scheduled to guest in the ballet - the Americans were uncertain about Irek Mukhamedov. Maybe if he slimmed down? Could they give him the once-over at the final dress-rehearsal? This wasn't acceptable to Anthony Dowell, so the Trust withdrew the Royal Ballet's rights to perform the work at all and an 11th-hour substitute had to be found. Perhaps wishing to compensate Mukhamedov for the humiliating loss of Apollo, they settled on The Judas Tree, Kenneth MacMillan's dirty story of gang rape and betrayal. Whatever the technical merits of this nasty piece of work, it's a bloody strange ballet to substitute for the neo- classical masterpiece the audience had booked to see. Last Wednesday's crowd certainly seemed unhappy with the switch.

Viviana Durante, who created the role of the woman, always contrived to suggest a kind of sluttish innocence that enhanced the moral ambiguity of this peculiar character. Gillian Revie as yet demonstrates neither the dramatic power nor technical finesse required. Mukhamedov danced with more energy than conviction. The audience certainly wasn't thrilled and the general applause seemed to be sheer relief that the ordeal was over. The individual bows were literally uncalled for.

Glen Tetley's new work, Amores, was the programme's second ballet and used Darcey Bussell, Deborah Bull, Leanne Benjamin, Stuart Cassidy, William Trevitt and Michael Nunn. They fill the stage with Tetley's dynamic chains of soaring jumps and arduous lifts but the ideas seemed to run out very early on. The bath-salts pastels of Nadine Bayliss body-suits and Michael Torke's curiously incidental music threw into terrible relief the athletic blandness of the choreography. The movement certainly told us nothing about the dancers that we didn't already know. Our disappointment was heightened by the sad fact that the Royal Ballet has so few opportunities to work with international choreographers.

When the curtain went up on the white tutus and the sunny sky of Rosenthal blue that herald Balanchine's Symphony in C, a ripple of appreciative delight ran round the stalls like a purr of satisfaction. This, they seemed to be saying, was much more like it. As it turned out, it wasn't all that much like it, but even when underperformed and hobbled by Barry Wordsworth's arthritic approximation of Bizet, the glamorous geometry of Balanchine's 1947 masterpiece ravishes the senses. Darcey Bussell, with her long lines and breathtaking facility, was born to dance Balanchine and her performance on its own would have been worth the licence fee.

Sat & 14, 15 May. Booking: 0171-304 4000

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