Frederick Ashton’s The Dream and Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth are two of The Royal Ballet’s most-loved classics, making a terrific double bill.
This handsome revival became a news story when Sergei Polunin quit the company, days before he was due to make his debut as Oberon. On opening night, Steven McRae stepped into the role, dancing with dazzling technique and vivid charisma.
McRae was already down to dance Oberon this season. Over the past year, he and Polunin have often been cast in the same roles, giving the company’s two young virtuosos a chance to outdo each other. It must be a weird way to make your debut in an already challenging role, but McRae is superb.
When he plots to enchant Titania, his gestures are sharp and commanding. Then, for a moment, he mimes her awakening, imagining her with a wealth of languorous sensuality. He dances the famous scherzo with quicksilver grace, whirling through the intricate steps. At his speediest, McRae never loses sight of Ashton’s lyricism, with a flowing warmth to his dancing.
Alina Cojocaru was a subdued Titania. She dances intelligently, with clean line and delicate phrasing, but with less than her usual presence. Valentino Zuchetti danced Puck with fizzing speed and energy. The production takes a while to warm up, but there were good performances from lovers, fairies and rustics.
After The Dream’s speedy delicacy, there’s the grand simplicity of Song of the Earth. Dressed in Nicholas Georgiadis’s simple costumes, dancers move with sculptural weight to Mahler’s Das Lied on der Erde, evoking happiness and loss before facing death.
After some rough edges in the first movement, this performance grew in power. In the Third Song, Sarah Lamb darts and dives through the evocation of youth. Lauren Cuthberston dances with fresh spontaneity in the fourth song.
As the central woman, Tamara Rojo dances with calm, smooth strength. In the Farewell, there’s almost too much abandon in her gestures, but she has the presence to carry this music. Alone on stage, facing her end, she waits with authority.
Rupert Pennefather, making his debut as the central man, gives a clean, committed performance. Carlos Acosta, as the masked messenger of death, shows his lofty jump and warm presence. Barry Wordsworth conducts a moving performance, sung by mezzo soprano Katharine Goeldner and tenor Toby Spence.
In repertory until 5 March. Box office 020 7304 4000.