The Royal Ballet's new triple bill has a strong framework with a gap in the middle. It starts and finishes with Les Sylphides and The Firebird, celebrating the centenary of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. Yet the programme's premiere, Alastair Marriott's new Sensorium, makes an underpowered centre.
Sensorium actually comes with its own strong framework. It's danced to seven Debussy piano preludes, five in lush orchestrations by Colin Matthews. Barry Wordsworth conducts sumptuously. Adam Wiltshire's designs are spacious and atmospheric, dominated by a slatted rectangular shape that curves like a sail. John B Read's lighting glows with aquatic blues and greens, turning golden at the end. Yet Marriott's choreography is lightweight and vague.
A corps of women in pale leotards – cut with a suggestion of 1920s swimsuits – pick their way on pointe, kicking their heels up behind them. They lean into angles, tidy but slack. There's not much to get hold of in Marriott's choreography. He arranges his dancers into poses and groups, sometimes attractive without being memorable. The music washes past the dancers, and past their choreographer.
Marriott sets the two solo piano preludes as duets. The first puts Alexandra Ansanelli and Rupert Pennefather into bland attitudes. In the second, Leanne Benjamin winds herself around Thomas Whitehead, ducking back and forth under his outstretched arm. Even Benjamin's taut dancing can't quite make this piece alert.
There's more life in the two Ballets Russes works, both choreographed by Mikhail Fokine. One hundred years ago, Diaghilev's company caused a sensation with its first Paris performances, promoting a new harmony of dancing, music and design. Les Sylphides is a major revival for The Royal Ballet, which has not danced this classic since 1992.
Against Alexandre Benois's backdrop, a ruined monastery in a forest, ethereal sylphs dance to Chopin. There's no story, making this a pioneering plotless work, a ballet of mood and of atmosphere.
Yuhui Choe is ideally cast as a sylph. She moves with delicate phrasing that never becomes coy. She ended her solo, the Prelude, on a held pose that seemed to float. Choe and the other lead sylphs, Lauren Cuthbertson and Laura Morera, bring out the texture of Fokine's solos. Changes of direction look windblown. They're airy but bold. The corps de ballet are more careful, but this is a fine revival. The Firebird is a Russian peasant fairy tale, with bright colours in Stravinsky's music and Goncharova's designs. Mara Galeazzi is too tame for the fierce title role, and the ballet's dramatic timing could be tighter. The big corps scenes remain thrilling, however: the magician's creatures driven to dance; the magnificent processions of the finale.
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