Frederick Ashton's Sylvia is a frilly mythological ballet with a delightful Delibes score and a cast including everything from gods to ceremonial goats. The Royal Ballet's production is a sumptuous recreation of the 1952 original, but needs more authority behind the trimmings.
Ashton created Sylvia to show off Margot Fonteyn. It is a ballerina's vehicle and it needs a dancer who will take charge. Sylvia has to carry the evening as the plot gets on with rescues and transformation scenes around her. We need to see the contrasts between her many dances.
Marianela Nuñez, who danced Sylvia on opening night, has a lively presence and delicate musical timing – I love the way the last stretch of her fingertips will round off a phrase. She makes a fiercely Amazonian huntress, moving into tenderness as she falls for the shepherd Aminta. Yet the spontaneity and sheer joy of Nuñez's best dancing was missing. She also neglected a lot of the upper-body detail, the delicate femininity, of Ashton's choreography.
Rupert Pennefather dances Aminta with clean lines, easy jumps and honest simplicity. As the wicked hunter Orion, Gary Avis makes a swaggering villain. Kenta Kura, as Eros, handles his transformation from a statue well, but is unmusical in the dancing that follows.
The Royal Ballet are not on top of Sylvia. It is an extravagant work that needs the discipline of style, something this reconstruction rarely pulls off. Ashton's home company should be at ease with his brilliant footwork and sensuous use of the upper body. Too many of the supporting characters were shaky, unfocused or worse. Boris Gruzin's conducting lacked elegance.
Individual dancers do stand out. As an attendant, Yuhui Choe was gorgeously Ashtonian. Laura Morera showed crisp attack as the goddess Diana, while Iohna Loot and Paul Kay made a bouncy pair of goats.
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