Ashton Ballets, Coliseum, London

The felicities of Ashton’s ballets, the unfailing assurance of his dances, the musical grace of his means, can surely never be more evident or more beguiling than in the double bill with which Birmingham Royal Ballet opened its week’s season at the Coliseum on Tuesday. And his scores – Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloé, Messager’s The Two Pigeons – which shape every moment of the stage action, colour it, give it life, could ask for no better advocate than Koen Kessels, who guided the Royal Ballet Sinfonia with unerring style through this music. Kessels seems to me to offer superlative advocacy for dance and for his every score. He was, indeed, the real hero of Daphnis.

Birmingham’s view of Ashton on this occasion had a lacklustre air. Ravel urges rhythmic vitality, emotional elegance. John Craxton’s designs tell us both of Attic Greece and of today. Ashton offers dance modern in its externals and antique in its resonances. The present cast seemed barely engaged by the drama implicit in the choreography or by its culminating joys, without verve in a performance dutiful, decent, bland.

Happily The Two Pigeons reminded us of Birmingham’s qualities. Here is a ballet of unashamed sentiment in its ravishing dances, its adorable score and its world of feeling. We are, surely, never again to see artists as luscious in means as Lynn Seymour, who was its first heroine, as ardent as Christopher Gable, her Young Man; as fiery as Elizabeth Anderton’s Gypsy – now there was a first cast.

But I was charmed by Nao Sakuma, so pretty as the Young Girl, and greatly admiring, as ever, of Robert Parker’s sympathetic portrait of the errant Young Man. The flood of young love that drenches the stage; the chic of Jacques Dupont’s design (the best skirts in ballet!); the sentiment and wit of Ashton’s dances, all spring with such charm and verve from Messager’s music that the piece is irresistible. And the pigeons behaved beautifully. (We shall have to find something else to put in the casserole.) And Koen Kessels gave the BRB artists that best of gifts: eloquent music from the pit. For him and his Sinfonia musicians, great admiration.

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