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“Dancing,” wrote August Bournonville, “is essentially an expression of joy”, and it is nowhere more joyous than in his Napoli of 1842. Its last act is set at the shrine of Monte Virgine above Naples, where the two lovers whose story is the action of the ballet are united amid their friends, and the intoxications of the tarantella drive everything joyously forward in a spiffing crescendo. It is one of the great masterpieces of ballet, and unique in its verve and contagious gaiety. The Royal Ballet has had two previous shots at the piece, but it is Johan Kobborg’s staging, first seen on Tuesday, that has best captured its spirit and its dance manner.
It is a triumph for Kobborg, who has slightly amplified and rearranged Bournonville’s text, – and this most successfully – and no less a triumph for its cast. There is an opening sequence (from Napoli’s first act) which sets the tone as six men and six women bound and beat and charm us, and look as bright and quick and sweet-footed as any Dane. Then the delights of the last act, which calls for the most buoyant power, the sunniest grace, the most happily communicated sense of pleasure felt and pleasure shown.
I have seen two casts, each splendid, but I must offer especial thanks to Marianela Nuñez and Alexandra Ansanelli and Yuhui Choe, and to Paul Kay and Steven McRae, who have the easy buoyancy and the gravity- defying skills that are the mark of truest Bournonville style. This choreography flatters the dancers, because it stresses a direct and unaffected acceptance of bravura demands, and they respond with movement light, light-filled, light hearted, and heart-lifting for the audience. Masses of cheers for them all.
In La Sylphide, which completes the programme, I saw Sarah Lamb give an enchantingly graceful and luminous account of the sylph, with Vyacheslav Samodurov as a James of remarkable power: he knows, and shows, the haunting tensions of a role torn between desire and guilt. And Sorella Englund, supreme Bournonville artist, has appeared as Madge, fascinating in dramatic nuance, as intensely communicative as a Kabuki actor, glorious.
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