How do you do that? Rhapsody, which opens this Royal Ballet triple bill, was created to show off Mikhail Baryshnikov's spectacular technique. Frederick Ashton's ballet is full of leaps and turns and impossible virtuosity, made to be danced with nonchalant ease. Steven McRae reaches unlikely levels of brilliance. His last sequence of turns is so quick, it's as if they've speeded up a film.
It's a performance with depth as well as dazzle. McRae's timing is wittily sharp, his arms and torso beautifully nuanced. He's matched by Alina Cojocaru, who zips through fleet footwork and melting upper body movement. The six female soloists float through their moments in the spotlight, while Jonathan Higgins plays the Rachmaninoff score with crisp precision.
Alastair Marriott's Sensorium from 2009 is attractive but inconsequential. Adam Wiltshire's set is dominated by a curved, slashed panel, suggesting a sail or a boat. The music is Debussy piano preludes in luscious orchestrations by Colin Matthews.
The dances are the least memorable thing about the ballet. In one duet, Leanne Benjamin leans on Thomas Whitehead as if he were a barré. Marianela Nuñez curls herself around Rupert Pennefather in another meandering duet. The corps de ballet bend and flex on point.
David Bintley's 1988 ballet Still Life at the Penguin Café is an animal dance with an environmental message. Simon Jeffes's music is a mix of palm court and world music. Bintley uses it to show endangered species dancing in a range of character styles, from 1930s ballroom to morris dance.
Hayden Griffen's animal masks and social dance costumes are clever, but the choreography is thin. There's too much repetition. When Bintley brings on the ballroom dancers, his steps lack variety. Zenaida Yanowsky is a stylish Utah longhorn ram, while McRae is charismatic even as a Brazilian woolly monkey.
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