Royal Opera House, London
October 19, 2017
Kenneth MacMillan was one of British ballet’s most illustrious sons. Twenty-five years after the much-loved choreographer’s death and in a unique evening, the major British ballet companies came together to celebrate his work in a programme danced by artists from Scottish Ballet, Birmingham Royal Ballet, Northern Ballet, English National Ballet and The Royal Ballet.
In Macmillan’s Concerto set to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto no.2 Birmingham Royal Ballet made the most of his exercise in the elegant control of the human body. It’s an object lesson in the pure joy of dance. Led by Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton in the tricky second movement pas de deux, the super-controlled and totally confident performers clad simply in yellow orange and red executed a series of beautifully austere and increasingly demanding choreography that proved conclusively what a powerful company BRB is.
This programme wasn’t exactly the battle of the ballets but it has to be said that Scottish Ballet seemed to have drawn the short straw with Le Baiser de la fée, set to Stravinsky’s score, a work which frankly feels a bit like a poor man’s Giselle, with some very strange staging which had the dancers constantly far back and poorly lit rather than projecting for the benefit of this huge auditorium. Nevertheless, they triumphed through sheer charm, receiving warm applause, but I did rather feel they had been poorly advised.
The evening’s final offering saw dancers from all five companies coming together for Macmillan’s sexy and sophisticated modern masterpiece, Elite Syncopations, set to the ragtime music of Scott Joplin and others. Featuring an on-stage band, the ballet gives a glimpse into the off-stage fun to be had by a company of dancers rehearsing. This fast becomes a pun-filled, high-spirited, good-natured and very funny competition to see who can be the most outstandingly athletic and inventive; in other words performers letting their hair down in series of increasingly sophisticated balletic in-jokes. Its 38 minutes are more packed with chances for showing off the dancers’ art than any other I can think of and this particular performance brought a storm of well-deserved applause.
This marvellous gala evening celebrating British ballet’s own rich history was a great opportunity for these excellent companies to be seen not only enjoying their heritage but proving how it continues to flourish. In response, their informed audience gave loud and clear evidence they appreciated every joyous nuance of this timely reminder celebrating one of our greatest choreographic talents.