The final programme of the Royal Ballet season goes from the tutu'd geometries of Ashton's Scènes de Ballet to MacMillan's stomping The Rite of Spring. Glen Tetley's Voluntaries sits heavily in the middle of this Stravinsky sandwich.
Scènes de Ballet, created in 1948, is full of glittering patterns, danced to Stravinsky. Ashton wanted to create a ballet that could be seen from any angle, the corps making intricate lines and shapes. The ballerina's dances mix lavish curling lines with crisp angles. This revival stresses Ashton's curving use of the upper body, but could be sharper with the footwork. At the matinee performance, Lauren Cuthbertson made sumptuous use of her arms and torso. Sergei Polunin was deft and strong in the virtuoso male role, with high jumps, exact beaten steps and real weight in his flowing arm movements. At the evening performance, Sarah Lamb had crisper footwork, while Valeri Hristov showed fine authority.
In Voluntaries, Tetley treats his dancers like Plasticine. Women are pulled and stretched through lifts. At the matinee, Leanne Benjamin was taut but partnered by a wooden Nehemiah Kish. The evening cast were superb, with Marianela Nuñez and Rupert Pennefather ardent and tender in their duets. Cuthbertson, Hristov and Polunin bounded through their trio.
MacMillan's Rite of Spring is full of thrusting hips and splayed fingers, the dancers' feet swishing on Sidney Nolan's painted floorcloth. The choreography can look strangely jazz-hands in the first half, but develops its own sense of ritual. The corps wind themselves into a snaking line, then crumple to the floor. In another sequence, they lie down in changing patterns, as the chosen sacrifice picks his way between their scissoring legs.
His way, because for this revival the sacrifice is a man, as at performances late in MacMillan's life. The choreography was never feminine, but the gender switch still has a big effect. The jagged positions look less angular on a sturdier male frame, while stressing the force of these steps.
Edward Watson, in the evening, is a more anguished victim, his narrow body twisting with a look of pain. Steven McRae, at the matinee, has more stamina for the final dance, driving himself powerfully to death.
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