Royal Ballet Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, London

Rojo and Polunin are a match for Fonteyn and Nureyev

Wednesday 12 October 2011 00:00

The Royal Ballet's oddly balanced triple bill mixes disappointments and very unexpected strengths. Wayne McGregor's Limen goes slack, while Frederick Ashton's Marguerite and Armand gets a new lease of life.

A retelling of the Traviata story, Marguerite and Armand is a star vehicle that looked forlorn without its original stars. Made to show off Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, it was never danced by anyone else in their lifetimes. In 2000, the Royal Ballet revived it for Sylvie Guillem. She's a megawatt presence, but the role didn't suit her; the ballet's weaknesses were painfully clear.

This time, it's led by Tamara Rojo, an intensely dramatic ballerina, with rising star Sergei Polunin. They give it theatrical impact. Rojo is superb in the ballet's still moments: the electric shock when she sees Armand for the first time, her frozen dignity when, believing she has left him for a richer lover, he throws money in her face.

Rojo understands that Marguerite's footwork is the key to her character. Her fluttering bourrées foreshadow the ballet's best moment, her broken, tottering exit after the confrontation with Armand. Polunin is young, ardent and believably arrogant: a raw boy who can't see past his own wants. His partnering is secure, while he bounds through the jumps created for Nureyev. Together, they make a slight ballet worth seeing.

Wayne McGregor's Limen, created in 2009, looks flat on revival. Tatsuo Miyajima's video scenery, blue with floating numbers, tends to overwhelm the dancing, while McGregor's choreography falls back on familiar habits.

Edward Watson's opening solo is full of McGregorisms: the jutting buttocks, the high extension where you grab your calf to pull a raised leg even higher. The poses are extreme, but the rhythm is sluggish. The dancers do their best to inject some energy; Watson, Steven McRae and Yuhui Choe stand out.

A duet for Sarah Lamb and Eric Underwood is more distinctive. Lamb curls in his arms, smoothly and without strain, even when she arches so far back that she brushes the top of her head with her feet.

The programme ends with Kenneth MacMillan's 1976 ballet Requiem. Danced to Fauré, the Royal Ballet's corps move through their groupings with muscular force. Lauren Cuthbertson is fluent in the leading ballerina role, though Nehemiah Kish makes a bland partner. Federico Bonelli dances with tender understanding as a Christ-like figure, while Melissa Hamilton shows strong, clear line in her dances.

In rep to 20 October (020 7304 4000)

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