Cheers for Kevin O’Hare, whose first season as director of the Royal Ballet acknowledges that there is something other than The Nutcracker for dance-lovers at this time of year. With a new triple bill, he has released two crowd-pleasers from durance vile, restoring Raymonda’s third act and Jerome Robbins’ In the Night to the stage and bringing The Firebird (which the company does well) back to the repertory.
It would be too Yuletide-ish to say that the first performance (at a barbarous 12.30pm) was uniformly splendid. Firebird’s brooding orchestral introduction was played to a bronchitic obbligato of coughs, but then Itziar Mendizabal flashed across the stage and we were in the presence of a grand interpretation. Mendizabal has the authority, the sustained technical resource – the role is notoriously a killer – and the dramatic intelligence that made her reading memorably fine. She was admirably matched by Bennet Gartside’s Tsarevich. Gartside enhances every role he plays, deploying an emotional subtlety that can entirely renew a character. (His gaoler in Manon a case in point.) Here he stresses both the peasant and the prince in the character, fights eagerly against Kostchey’s magic, and with Gary Avis’s spidery malevolence he has a worthy opponent. The performance was a fine realisation of Fokine’s great creation.
Rather less impressive the rest of the matinee. Jerome Robbins’ In the Night offers three couples who explore love serene, or moody, or tearing at itself, while Chopin nocturnes – not at their most suave on this occasion – sustain activities that lovers display in such circumstances. Danced with sensitivity by Sarah Lamb with Federico Bonnelli, Alina Cojocaru with Johan Kobborg, the piece needs to seem more emotionally penetrating. (The Zenaida Yanowsky/Nehemiah Kish duet seemed blank: separation loomed.)
The closing Raymonda Act III is Nureyev’s dizzying sequence of solos and ensembles that seems a final statement about such divertissements as they were known at the Mariinsky Theatre as the 19th century ended. Barry Kay’s design is white and gold and opulent; Glazunov’s score even more so. The cast, led by Zenaida Yanowsky, was eager, but a serene brilliancy in step and style – you see it in recorded performance by Ludmila Semenyaka at the Bolshoi and Olessia Novikova in La Scala’s recent staging – as yet escapes them.