Royal Ballet's Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, London

4.00

The Royal Ballet's outgoing director leaves a surprisingly short – and white – company

A birthday, a wedding, a holiday: these are the sunny-seeming components of the final mixed bill devised by Monica Mason for the Royal Ballet before she retires. Yet in two of the three works celebration is the last thing on anybody's mind. The holiday brings about family meltdown. The wedding is a terrifying ordeal.

The evening opens, though, with the glittering decorum of Frederick Ashton's Birthday Offering, his plotless homage to the company on its 25th, just two years before Mason joined as a young dancer in 1958. Created with seven ballerina roles in order to show off the abundance of star talent at the time, it might have served the same purpose today but for a swathe of injuries that kept some current favourites out of the line-up. Nonetheless, the cast underlines the choices Mason has made in the course of her directorship, and not just that she has favoured foreign products over home-grown and small girls over tall. (If you want to see Sylvie Guillem in pointe shoes these days, you'll have to go to China).

More controversially, Mason has kept the female cohort of the company noticeably white. Granted, she has recognised a prize asset in Carlos Acosta and hired one or two excellent black men, but she has stubbornly refused – for reasons undeclared – to offer contracts to dark-skinned women as they come up through the Royal Ballet School. That must change if ballet is to hold its own against other art forms.

Such issues didn't impinge in the 1950s. Ashton's concern in Birthday Offering was to raise a toast to female glamour, and this grand parade does that still, even if the frogged tutus strike the modern eye as fusty, and the tiaras with their feather tufts not just fussy but slightly mad, as if each girl were balancing a cake, complete with candles, on her head in some old-school deportment exercise.

What makes this revival memorable is Tamara Rojo in the role made for Margot Fonteyn. It's one thing to look radiant when being wafted about as if by a light breeze (thanks, Federico Bonelli). It's quite another to retain that composure while bourréeing backwards and bent double as if reaching to cut one's toenails. But if this was a challenge for La Rojo you wouldn't know it. She will be sorely missed when she too leaves the company later this month to become artistic director of English National ballet.

A Month in the Country, a contraction of Turgenev's play, falls into the category of Ashton narratives that would have you believe the music was written to fit the drama, not the other way round. The score is a patchwork of Chopin; the story turns on that familiar Russian scenario, the well-off, well-ordered family rocked by unfulfillable desires. Sadly, it has seen better readings. Zenaida Yanowsky is too reactive, too flappy, as Natalia Petrovna, the wife who so foolishly sets her cap at the children's dashing young tutor. Sylvie Guillem did less to greater effect.

And so finally to Les Noces, Bronislava Nijinska's stark, verging on violent take on a Russian peasant wedding, still startling in its modernism 90 years on. Here the dancers have ferocious authority, stamping through Stravinsky's cross-rhythms with ritual force, becoming an unstoppable tide of staggered lines, wedges and phalanxes, a formidable community.

Critic's Choice

Bringing together visual art, music, poetry, and a host of Royal Ballet principals, Metamorphosis: Titian 2012 is the company’s contribution to the 2012 festival, inspired by the painter’s masterpieces. Wayne McGregor, Kim Brandstrup and Christopher Wheeldon are among the choreographers; music is by Nico Muhly, Mark-Anthony Turnage and others. At the Royal Opera House from Sat; free outdoor screenings around the UK on 16 Jul.

Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living