The Royal Ballet, Royal Opera House, London


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The Independent Culture

The Royal Ballet’s new triple bill starts out frilly and ends up elemental: from the playful display of Birthday Offering to the thundering power of Les Noces, with the romantic drama of A Month in the Country in between.

Frederick Ashton’s Birthday Offering was created in 1956, for this company’s 25th anniversary. It’s a party piece, a showcase for seven ballerinas and their partners, to pretty music by Glazunov. This is very decorative dancing. André Levasseur’s costume designs are spotted, striped, gathered and layered, and so are the dances. This revival is clear and careful, but some dancers handle the intricate style better than others.

In the second solo, Laura Morera zips through constant changes of direction, dashing here and turning back on herself there. She’s teasing and funny, strong enough to keep the frills from becoming fuss. Yuhui Choe, Hikaru Kobayashi and Sarah Lamb have fun; Roberta Marquez and Helen Crawford are less relaxed. Tamara Rojo lacks spontaneity in the ballerina role, carrying her head too stiffly, though she’s a grande dame presence. Federico Bonelli is elegant as her cavalier. The final waltz is lovely, everybody enjoying themselves at a rather grand party.

In Ashton’s A Month in the Country, the women of a well-to-do Russian household are set in a flutter by the arrival of a handsome young tutor. It’s another ballet with plenty of trimmings, but the characters are precisely drawn, caught up in emotions that can’t be allowed to go anywhere.

As the married woman Natalia Petrovna, Zenaida Yanowsky sweeps through her household with high-handed charm, shocked to find herself plunging into jealousy. Yanowsky’s upper body is grandly expressive, though her feet aren’t always dreamy enough for the floating steps. At the heart of this feminine storm, Rupert Pennefather’s tutor is all clean lines and emotional confusion.

Created in 1923, Nijinska’s Les Noces is a stark masterpiece, evoking a Russian peasant wedding in fierce, stylised dances. The bride and her friends form a pyramid of faces, a geometric pileup. Feet stomp, or stab at the stage in sharp pointework. The corps de ballet churn and stamp through the pounding rhythms of Stravinsky’s harsh score.

It’s relentless, both primitive and modernist. After some rough edges in the first scene, this performance grows in strength and force, exhilarating and unstoppable.

Until 7 July. Box office 020 7304 4000.