The Royal Ballet's 75th season is ending with a rush of birthday celebrations: a new Sleeping Beauty, a royal gala and this mixed bill programme: The Rake's Progress, a 1935 ballet by company founder Ninette de Valois, plus divertissements.
De Valois's ballet is based on Hogarth's paintings. Over six scenes, the Rake rejects the girl he has seduced, squanders his money on prostitutes and gambling, and ends in the madhouse. Gavin Gordon's music is boldly theatrical, while Rex Whistler's brilliant sets evoke the colours of Hogarth's paintings, the sharp lines of his engravings.
De Valois's neat, crisp steps have the effect of mime. Every move has a point to make, but the performers can rarely let go and dance. On the Covent Garden stage, the drama takes a while to get across.
The Orgy scene could be broader and bawdier, but it's already fun: one woman rolling down her scarlet stockings, another singing a drunken ballad, with the orchestra providing her wheezing, wavering notes.
Johan Kobborg dances the Rake with elegance and attack. Taught finicky steps by a dancing master, he shows clean footwork and a nice sense of exaggeration.
The Betrayed Girl is Laura Morera, dancing superbly this season. Each thought is vividly portrayed, with a directness that makes the ballet spontaneous.
The Rake's Progress is followed by divertissements, seven numbers for seven decades of company history. Nice idea, but they don't add up to a programme. Solos from de Valois's Job and Frederick Ashton's Dante Sonata make little sense out of context. The duet from Ashton's Rhapsody was another odd choice: why not give us some of the ballet's spectacular solos?
Three works by Kenneth MacMillan came off better. Carlos Acosta, in virtuoso form, danced the Romeo and Juliet balcony scene with Tamara Rojo: a surefire gala hit. Marianela Nuñez and Thiago Soares were sweetly dippy in Elite Syncopations, while Darcey Bussell showed her lavish flow of movement in Winter Dreams. There's a desperate shortage of good choreography to represent the present; we ended up with Wayne McGregor's Qualia, a limited piece that gets by on gymnastic poses for Edward Watson and Leanne Benjamin.
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