Tuesday, January 7, 2014

McRae and Osipova Dazzle in Royal Jewels

Natalia Osipova in Rubies, photo by Bill Cooper

Has there ever been a more exciting performance of the Rubies pas de deux than tonight’s at the Royal Ballet? I posit no. Because it would be impossible to be more flirtatious, athletic, dramatic, or powerful than Steven McRae and Natalia Osipova were tonight. They were on fire (perhaps literally - for unknown reasons the safety curtain descended after their curtain call). The part is so perfect for Osipova’s strengths - great turns, fast jumps, and amazing extensions, and as a bonus works well for her personality, with its in-your-face exuberance. Even more surprising, McRae matched her jump for jump, spin for spin, and filled the stage with his own dynamism. Not only did these two make every leap and chaine turn exciting, they also brought energy to the down-time; McRae’s jogging had the audience laughing out loud. 

Reports of the Royal Ballet’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In comparison to that performance, it’s difficult to talk about the other two jewels. They were both excellent, but anything is going to fade a little in comparison. Emeralds was very somber, which isn’t how I usually enjoy the work, but the soloists turned in some exquisite performances, in particular Laura Morera whose every movement was precise and elegant. And since the company seems to be going for drama here, Edward Watson played the tragic hero well. I still prefer a lighter touch - I think that Emeralds can be gently comic - but the company gives a sincere and unified interpretation. 

Royal Ballet dancers in Emeralds, photo by Alastair Muir

The corps glittered in Diamonds, making its way through the complex stage formations with precision and panache. Rupert Pennefather in the lead role, however, looked like he needed a shot of espresso. I realize that the Balanchine aesthetic eschews affectation, but it does require a regal presence. Pennefather might as well have been walking down the street. Lauren Cuthbertson’s performance tended to the understated as well, but her musical interpretation was beautiful and everything was done with an acute attention to detail that lent excitement to the act. 

Now back to that Rubies. There’s no denying the powerful sexuality in the act, particularly on the part of the lead soloist (here Melissa Hamilton). The Royal Ballet embraced that power and in doing so turned out the most exciting Rubies I’ve seen. Unlike last summer’s rendition of Jewels at the Bolshoi, the lead dancers in London had fully-fleshed versions of these characters - not just sexy, but also funny, smart, joyful. Perhaps this reads too much into the work, but I think that the choreography to Rubies embraces women’s liberation (oddly, since Balanchine has never seemed a feminist to me in any other work). It was a joy to see a performance of the movement that embraced that power as well.

Royal Ballet, Jewels, January 7, 2013, Choreography: George Balanchine, Emeralds: Music: Gabriel Fauré, soloists: Roberta Marquez, Edward Watson, Laura Morera, Ryoichi Hirano, Rubies: Music: Igor Stravinsky, soloists: Natalia Osipova, Steven McRae, Melissa Hamilton, Diamonds: Music: Pyotr Ilych Tchaikovsky, soloists: Lauren Cuthbertson, Rupert Pennefather

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