Natalia Osipova and Vladimir Shklyarov in 'Marguerite and Armand'
Natalia Osipova and Vladimir Shklyarov in 'Marguerite and Armand' © Tristram Kenton

The Royal Ballet’s current triple bill of Frederick Ashton choreographies has brought some splendid performances. Most recently The Dream has featured Laura Morera and Alexander Campbell as an impeccable Titania and Oberon, feeding grandly off their music in roles where that music means all to Ashton’s steps, and with a fine cast of confused lovers, and Luca Acri as a Puck of liveliest bravura. Meanwhile Symphonic Variations continues its sublime way with the strongest male cast — the faultless Vadim Muntagirov, James Hay, Tristan Dyer — I have seen in recent years.

But, completing the programme, Marguerite and Armand is now showing its age. Its clockwork dramatic tricks and its general air of an occasional piece that has out-stayed its purpose and welcome are all too evident.

Devised as an astute portrait of the ageing Margot Fonteyn and the emotional allure of the much younger Rudolf Nureyev; shaped by Ashton’s entire understanding of Fonteyn’s artistry; saddled with a vulgar orchestration of Liszt’s piano sonata, and with Cecil Beaton’s flimsy decor and predictable costuming, it is an awkward, slightly risible, self-indulgent exercise in romantic posturings and tubercular clichés that prompts the lurking thought, “Who the hell cares, anyway?”

With Fonteyn’s astonishing dramatic skill in a role cunningly tailored to her still potent presence, and with Nureyev’s physical and emotional ardours still fresh, performance demanded admiration. In this revival, even with strong casting to provide its motor force, I have found it insupportably thin.

On Monday night Natalia Osipova showed us Marguerite with all the resources of her great talent, and tried to bring the affair to life amid a cluster of nice young men who were impersonating, all too successfully, shop dummies. The Mariinsky Ballet’s admirable Vladimir Shklyarov raced over the stage as Armand, and emoted appropriately. But the staging is dead in the water, and audiences should be left with the vivid film of Fonteyn and Nureyev to tell about this choreography. The present affair has not been lived in for years.

To June 10,

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