Surprises and disappointments

Royal Ballet | Royal Opera House, London
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Lucky virtuosos are able to outperform their rivals in the power, finesse and ease of their movements. But sometimes they are typecast as machines for technical glitter and their expressive gifts are overlooked. Such is the case with Carlos Acosta, even though his past dramatic roles have proved he well knows how to use his body as a conduit for story and feeling.

Lucky virtuosos are able to outperform their rivals in the power, finesse and ease of their movements. But sometimes they are typecast as machines for technical glitter and their expressive gifts are overlooked. Such is the case with Carlos Acosta, even though his past dramatic roles have proved he well knows how to use his body as a conduit for story and feeling.

On paper he might not seem a natural for the lyrical melancholy of Manon's tragic Des Grieux, whereas laddish Franz in Coppelia might seem perfect for his innate exuberance. Yet even dashing young male stars have their darker profundities and as Des Grieux, his sober sensitivity coupled with romantic ardour probably surprised quite a few.

Never before have we seen Des Grieux's slow solos phrased with such nuance and unforced control. But this never squeezes out his character's yearning emotion; what grips you is how the movement becomes a language of emotion.

By contrast Gillian Revie's début as Manon was a piece of miscasting. Offstage she may be vivacious, beautiful and childlike, but in performance she came across as greyly ordinary and too mature to be convincing. She might later be able to iron out the awkwardness betrayed in some her of transitional steps, but really she only lit up in the pas de deux, when she could share Acosta's own warm glow.

Victor Alvarez acted promisingly as Manon's roguish brother Lescaut, his extreme youth presenting Lescaut as only just starting out on the seedy make, rather than cynically practised. So it was a pity that after the first act he sustained an injury and was replaced by Ricardo Cervera. But after the Olympian calibre of the Kirov, the general impression created by the Royal Ballet's soloists and ensembles was provincial. The days when the company could count itself as belonging to the international first division are well past.

Things looked up with the season's triple bill, and not just because of a repeat of Ashton's Marguerite and Armand. The ripe romanticism of this former Fonteyn-Nureyev vehicle could so easily topple into kitsch, but Sylvie Guillem's searing conviction continues to grow, and Nicolas Le Riche's craggy recklessness grabs you by the throat.

Robbins's The Concert was an equal delight, albeit of an opposite sort. Wonderfully revived by Jean-Pierre Frohlich, it shows the Royal Ballet at its best. Johan Kobborg glinted with expert lust as the roving husband. But it was Darcey Bussell who astonished. Like Acosta she is not primarily thought of as an actress, and it would be hard to imagine her as, say, Marguerite. But The Concert reveals her as a sublime comedienne, the wide-eyed freshness that can be limiting in certain roles here a major advantage. She has a gift for comic timing and a breezy sense of fun; combined with her beauty it is irresistible.

To 29 July, 020-7304 4000

Comments