Royal Ballet, Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, London

Memories are made of this

Nadine Meisner
Wednesday 30 January 2002 01:00

Royal Ballet, Triple Bill, Royal Opera House, London

In accordance with the arts-marketing wisdom that requires mixed ballet programmes to possess a linking theme and title, Ross Stretton's first triple bill as director of the Royal Ballet is called Memories. All three works look back in one way or another: on life and love, or, as in the case of Stephen Baynes's debut with the company, on ballet itself.

Beyond Bach, created for the Australian Ballet in 1995, takes the shared history of music and ballet as its premise. Many of the selected pieces derive from court dances or entertainments, which were the foundation stones for classical ballet. The dance vocabulary is therefore deliberately academic and the parallels between court and classroom made visually explicit by couples in practice dress mingling with their forebears in 18th-century costume.

Andrew Carter's pillars, staircase and window on a blue sky have a sensational monumentality intended to suggest both a cathedral and Versailles – although the result reminds me more of a noble-savant's study, emblematic of the Age of Reason, with low chandeliers shaped like scientific instruments.

Once the ghostly ancestors have disappeared, the succession of classical dances take their course, led by Darcey Bussell with Inaki Urlezaga and Marianela Nuñez with Jonathan Cope. The large cast is mostly arranged in unison groups, and although Baynes doesn't quite avoid eventual repetitiveness, he still varies his effects fluently. The dance for the two lead couples to Air on a G String has a hushed beauty, their numbers expanding into two trios mysteriously slipping in and out of unison. Also striking is the procession of women down the staircase to amass on stage with their partners, before their exit leaving Jonathan Cope to dance a final solo.

True, the dingy lighting shrouds the dancers, but they also need to project and glitter more. Perhaps then, the choreography would also find space for the emotional rapport that is absent. By contrast, Antony Tudor's masterly The Leaves are Fading, another company premiere, manages to look back both on human love and a long love affair with ballet. Genesia Rosato is the woman contemplating a past populated by different couples and their pas de deux. Or perhaps they represent the same couple, at a different romantic stage – the first joyously verdant, danced by Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg, she full of vibrant naturalness, he a mix of playful swagger and razor forcefulness. Dvorak's string music sweeps the cast up in a bucolic swirl, a cycle of life that alternates with the pas de deux. Nostalgia saturates every move, lyricism is written in capital letters.

The dancers measure up fully to the choreography, as do Sylvie Guillem and Nicolas Le Riche, returning to Ashton's Marguerite and Armand. They abandon themselves recklessly, they tear their hearts out, as the dying Marguerite relives her life with Armand. But by then, the memories have piled up and we long for something in a contrasted, forward-gazing mood. Too much sameness between discourses and they cancel each other out.

To 9 February (020-7304 4000)

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