Les Patineurs, Royal Opera House, London
Thursday 30 December 2010
Snow is falling, this time on stage. Frederick Ashton's ballet Les Patineurs shows skaters at play, showing off or slipping on the ice. When the snow starts to fall, they react as people do react: they look up, reach out to touch it, rush into a new round of activity, a whirl of movement.
The Royal Ballet are dancing Les Patineurs as a double bill with The Tales of Beatrix Potter, Ashton's celebration of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and her chums.
Ashton's 1937 ballet puts skaters in a Victorian park. There are snowy branches overhead, and the music, Meyerbeer ballet music arranged by Constant Lambert, is full of lively tunes and rhythms.
Ashton makes ballet steps look like skating moves. Two women cross the stage, walking in a chirpy rhythm. They're on pointe, springing from one foot to the other, shoulders swinging. The swinging legs and feet have the slippery quality of moving on ice. It's so precisely observed, and so pretty, that the audience laughs in pleasure.
On this first night, the Royal Ballet revival had some strong dancing, but could do with more brio. It's a confident performance that doesn't always take flight.
Steven McRae is ideal casting as the virtuoso skater in blue. Even his first entrance is funny: a modest skating walk in, though you know the modesty won't last. He spins and jumps tirelessly, bounding through very demanding steps. Perhaps he could time the solo's flourishes more tightly, the arching poses between the dazzling tricks.
Sarah Lamb and Rupert Pennefather are smooth but undercharacterised as the lyrical couple in white. Where everybody else slips or shows off, this pair dance sweetly together. Lamb has clean footwork and clear lines, with Pennefather partnering securely.
Samantha Raine and Laura Morera are quick and bold as the girls in blue, with triumphant fouetté turns and witty timing. Christina Arestis and Francesca Filpi are sweet as the beginner girls in red. When they fall, they're on the ground before you, or they, know it. Ashton sets his skaters' falls brilliantly to the music. They land with a lurch, then pick themselves up with varying degrees of dignity.
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