Ballet’s monsters, the Mariinsky dinosaurs and their modern progeny, have become irresistible to audiences, what “going to the ballet” ideally means. Time was when dance companies rejoiced in triple bills. Then came “the classics” – those early productions with which Ninette de Valois educated her dancers, her audiences, the western world – and a public grew up here in Britain and elsewhere believing that large stagings were in some mysterious way “better” than three one-acters, an innovation owed to Diaghilev.
So, today, the mastodons still roam over our stages, and such evenings as last Saturday’s, when the identity of the Royal Ballet was grandly proclaimed in three one-act creations, are rare, vastly welcome. I am no great admirer of Wayne McGregor’s convulsive challenges for dancers, but Limen, despite its anxious score (a cello concerto by Kaija Saariaho), was given brilliantly apt performance by Edward Watson and his colleagues. Watson’s leg extended, foot flexed, is as dramatic as Swan Lake’s 32 fouettés.
Highest drama came with the return of Marguerite and Armand, Ashton’s ultra-romantic vehicle, made for Fonteyn and Nureyev in the first and ecstatic days of their partnership. Impossible after them? Not so, if these performances by Tamara Rojo and Sergey Polunin are anything to go by. Preferable, I venture. Marguerite was, historically, 23 years old at her consumptive death. Fonteyn, whose incarnation I thought a masterly display of artifice, was nearly twice that. Rojo is beautiful, ardently young, and the dance flows in ravishing phrases, drenched with feeling, with inevitable tragedy. Polunin is all impassioned youth – like Nureyev – but there is a freshness and a power to his dancing, a lover’s greedy profile, which imbue the role with grand conviction. Every cheer was deserved.
And, to show just how much we miss when we neglect one-act ballets, MacMillan’s faultless realisation of the Fauré Requiem. Its griefs tear at us. Its terrors chill the soul, yet its hopes are those of unshaken faith. Great swathes of movement speak the words of the text and give flesh to the score. It was superbly danced. For Leanne Benjamin at the very core of her artistry, to Marianela Núñez and their colleagues, vast respect. To them, and to the musicians and singers under Barry Wordsworth, much gratitude.