The Royal Opera House celebrated the Queen's Jubilee with a programme that included two world premieres, one by Frederick Ashton and the other by Kenneth MacMillan, and some opera as well – but that was for the Silver Jubilee, 25 years ago. This all-ballet gala for the Golden Jubilee contained no premieres, no surprises. On the contrary, its content was familiar to the point of tedium. The director, Ross Stretton, not only restricted his choice to the company's present repertoire, but often selected the dullest extracts – such as Tatiana and Gremin's pas de deux in Cranko's Onegin – or the most hackneyed, such as the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet.
The performers gave their bodies and souls: Darcey Bussell and Roberto Bolle for Romeo and Juliet; Mara Galeazzi and Christopher Saunders for Onegin; Sylvie Guillem and Nicolas Le Riche for the passages from Ashton's Marguerite and Armand. Carlos Acosta was even more sensational in the Don Quixote pas de deux than he had been in the complete ballet the night before – simpler, somehow, purer – and his partner Marianela Nuñez completely held her own in stylishness and charm. The processional entrée in Ashton's Birthday Offering was an appropriate start to the evening and it was right that the same piece's pas de deux be danced by the company's two senior principals Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope.
But to follow Bussell and Cope in the darkly mysterious, lyrical pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon's Tryst with Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in the equally lyrical pas de deux from Tudor's The Leaves are Fading was monotonous programming. To select the Bronze Idol solo as an example of the felicities of La Bayadère says something rather alarming about Stretton's taste.
That was the only solo in an evening weighted with pas de deux, inevitable in galas. Another exception was the Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato's cutesy male trio, Remanso, one of several international ingredients without which the programme would have trumpeted a xenophobic Little Englander message, notwithstanding the different nationalities among the performers. As an example of modern classicism, William Forsythe's headlong The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude was a cannier inclusion, although the men's kinky, cut-away costumes might well have prompted one of Prince Philip's notorious remarks. Equally welcome was the section from Mats Ek's Carmen, led by the wonderful Sylvie Guillem, which brought some desperately needed punch and surprise to the second half.
In fact, it was the evening's final items that held the most appeal. Carmen was followed by a touching défilé, a closing salute from all the company to the vigorous, declamatory polonaise from Tchaikovsky's Suite No 3. And if, on leaving the building, you had rushed to the Piazza behind, where the Big Screen was giving a simultaneous broadcast, you could have watched the Queen meeting the dancers and making her way with Prince Philip to her car.
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