Steven McRae

Giselles – Cuthbertson, Bonelli – April 2 2016 (plus two other casts)

This was a Giselle full of fine moments and dramatic momentum. Lauren Cuthbertson is already spectrally pale, even as a peasant girl. One quickly realised that this was perhaps the frail, congenitally fated girl of the libretto, doomed to have a sad end, sword or no sword.

Her skips at her entrance were full of life and easy in their appearance of light grace, Cutbertson throughout proving herself a gifted actress. In the “cross dance” where the villagers form a charming rotating whirl, she looked giddy with love and happiness as she sought her man. Her delight in the moment was real and joyous. Her reaction to being made Queen of the Vintage by the assembled village was a beguiling “who, me?”;  her little hops on points in her small variation before the Queen were invested with joy and almost a coy pleasure at her own abilities, and her character’s love for her two-timing Loys/Albrecht was genuine.

Albrecht himself (Frederico Bonelli) was here played as rather an entitled cad. His dismissing of his squire  (Tomas Mock) with a penny from his coinpurse encapsulating his disdain for the lower class – except when pretty, female, young, like his Giselle. He and Cuthebretson made a beautiful couple.

Her “mad scene” (so common in opera of the era) was well done, the image of a shattered life showed in her expression. When she removed her hands from her face, and her face came into sight, she resembled almost a pale porcelain doll – a bit creepy in fact. One saw that her balance of mind was truly affected, forever. Her death scene and the moments leading up to it were fantastic, her moment of expiration clear and tragic. Bonelli acted grief well. The tumult around the events was given urgency by the fine corps de ballet.

As a point of fact, I must single out the remarkable Mayara Magri for her work here. Her acting, even as “just a villager” is superb. She is a true asset to the company. In narration of Berthe’s “beware the Wilis!” narrative, I had noticed her shivering in fear, terrified (I thought it improvised, but she does it at each performance, and yet it works every time). In her “come on, let’s dance!” moments with her village beau, or in amplifying onstage events by a glance, or a smile, she is pitch perfect. The corps here shared this same well honed ability to believe in the stage events and to reinforce their believability.

I noticed now how much Peter Wright favours dry ice for stage effects, and I am grateful he has used it. In his Swan Lake it is a memorable stage picture to see Swans emerge from its serene mask. Here, atmosphere in the Gothic woods, and subtle ethereality in the entrance of the wilis. Credit must go to revival lighting of David Finn, after Jennifer Tipton‘s original.

Claire Calvert‘s Myrtha was chilly in mein, but her shoes were rather squeaky. The two Russian ladies in front of me shook their heads in censure. I think Ms Calvert is a little too petite for the role, perhaps too favouring the a terre more than jetes and the writing for this role. This comment not to the diminishment of her conviction in the role, which was never less than full.

Wilis themselves were supernaturally “as one”. Drilling from either ballet mistress Samantha Raine or just repetition of performances brought a shared precision that was a delight to see. Bennet Gartside as Hilarion was excellent, his dance to death full of desperation and appeal. One felt sorry for him almost, but myth and fairytale has a way of punishing everyone, bad guys especially.

Memorably fine was the moment Giselle made a protective cross in front of Albrecht. For proportion, as an aesthetic picture, beautiful. In its being, it was invested with a hope and love almost palpable, and clarion clear: Cuthbertson’s face uplifted in hope, Bonelli’s fixed, a challenge to Myrtha who retreated from this unity of souls. Love defeating evil: rather the epitome of Romantic art. I am moved just recalling it.

Bonelli’s subsequent entrechats were high and brisk, his panting and exertion probably real but adding to the effect. The moment the bell tolled, Wilis and Giselle looked to the sound as one. I have rarely seen the parting scene done so well. Giselle as wisp, as dream. Albrecht hoping he might retain her embrace, that she might live.

Cutherbertson produced the little “pense-à-moi” marguerite flower at the end truly from nowhere, itself a magical moment. Bonelli’s expression was one of pain at her loss, then wonderment, then redemption. A strong showing from him, from everyone.

The cheers all received at curtain were well deserved. I join them here, in celebration.

 

Bonus material!

Prior to this performance I had seen two other casts: Marianella Nuñéz and Vadim Muntagirov (March 22), and Steven McRae and Iana Salenko (March 19 matinee).

McRae and Salenko gave an effortlessly technical tour-de-force as one would expect.  I recall well McRae’s”wafting lifts” of Salenko in the Act II pas de deux, which achieved an illusion of ballon and weightlessness the other couples didn’t quite manage.  It helps that she is only five foot two or three of course. Salenko once more showed her skill for the adagio, which is not to say her skills elsewhere are minor!

I would have enjoyed a meaner Hilarion (Valentino Zuchetti) but I think Myrtha (Helen Crawford) was perhaps technically  the strongest I have seen of the three casts, and her revulsion at the pair’s love was well drawn.

Berthe was Kristen McNally, and her mime was chilling, clearly phrased and lucidly performed. I think she may have just “beaten” the other cast’s Elizabeth McGorian in the spooky stakes – and for subtle hairpin removal! I believe she may well be the company’s most gifted character artist (aside from the wonderful Gary Avis…)

I didn’t quite feel the romance there, but McRae kept the story alive and moving, his acting was especially good. It must be difficult to produce that type of grief and loss each night, and he did well.

The pas de six went by splendidly, James Hay catching the eye for his security of technique and well placed execution. His variation truly gave the appearance of effortless flight. Beautiful to watch. Matthew Ball drew the eye too, by virtue of his height, and because of his strong abilities in the brief dual male variation. Coordination from all was excellent.

The pas de six cast on March 22 was luxuriant: among them, Yuhui Choe, Francesca Hayward, Alexander Campbell, Marcelino Sambé, Yasmine Naghdi and Luca Acri. Campbell released his inner Bluebird at times, Choe and he were delightfully musical. Sambé was impressive in his jumps as ever, and Hayward dancing charmingly throughout, fascinating to watch next to Naghdi. Acri full of élan was icing on that balletic cake, rich and enjoyable fare.

And of course, Marianella Nuñéz and Vadim Muntagirov were our leads. Nuñéz has I believe cited Giselle as a dream role for her, after being celebrated as a great Myrtha. Here she was every bit the vivacious peasant girl in Act I.In the mad scene she really drew the story up a level or two, hair flying all over in a mania of pain. Her Giselle died rather loosely though. I liked Cutherbetson’s hand and arm outstretched, which Salenko shared.

Muntagirov’s “check my new threads!” mime was beautiful in itself, his puffed out chest sent his  long line flowing, and beautiful. Those same finely crafted hands were used to great effect in his Act II variation, some of the finest dancing I have seen for a long time. These classical roles really suit him. Itziar Mendziabal‘s Myrtha had a wobble to start, and was felt a bit rushed, and I wonder how happy she was with her dancing afterwards, but as with all other Myrtha’s I have seen, she definitely suited the role when acting it.

Wright’s production is a pleasure to see, and regularly graces Covent Gardens stage. There are still a few shows left at time of writing, and it is sure to return. I recommend it.

 

 

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Rhapsody/Two Pigeons – The Royal Ballet – McRae, Osipova; Campbell, Choe, January 20 2016

Everyone really only wants to hear Variation 18 from Rachmaninov’s famous piece, and anything additional is probably a bonus. A big bonus is to see Steven McRae leap and bound with some ridiculous over-the-top, laugh-out-loud moments of dancerly pyrotechnics. Scything scissorring jumps, his trademark chaine-tornado, McRae revelled in Ashton’s writing. There’s flash, flair and brio which is McRae’s metier, and he showed glorious definition in tours especially.

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Nutcrackers Galore

Cultural institutions can become quickly established. A full Nutcracker wasn’t shown in England until 1934, and in America until 1944. Now, in traditional stagings, with swathes of snow, tutus, Chrsitmas trees and rats and that forever fey Sugar Plum Fairy, it has become integrated into the experience of Christmas for many. (Let’s leave aside any comment on commercialisation of the same!)

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Woolf Works – The Royal Ballet, 20th May 2015

Quite who suggested the subject matter of Virginia Woolf for a new ballet, and quite why they did so, is anyone’s guess*.  Still good art can come from unlikely places, or can be sourced from curious themes, and McGregor’s art suceeds: this Woolf works. It sketches powerful moments – indeed in some places, it achieves a rare beauty all of its own. Parts I and III of this triptych are by far the strongest. Part II feels like the campest thing ever committed to stage. (More on that later.)

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La Fille mal gardée Cinema Relay– Osipova, McRae, Mosley, Saunders, Kay, Peregrine, May 5th 2015

Yes, there were a few ribbon mishaps. Yes, Peregrine nearly brought down the backcloth and nearly killed two members of the cast in doing so, and yes Lesley Collier is right about Natalia Osipova’s port de bras, still a little Bolshoi and not yet 100% Ashton, but by goodness, I don’t quite care really, when the rest is as charming and lovely as this was.
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La Fille mal gardée – Osipova, McRae, Mosley, Saunders, Kay, Peregrine – April 29th 2015

This was another delightful Fille, courtesy of principals Natalia Osipova and Steven McRae. Naturally the setting – a pure ray of sunshine fit to warm the heart – contributed, and so did strong corps work too.

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Swan Lake: Retrospective and Awards

Here’s a brief reflection on the Royal Ballet’s Swans and other denizens of Swan Lake I have seen this season live.

The Operatunist’s Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake 2015 awards 😀

  • Best Odette overall: Salenko/Nunez tie (Salenko for dance, Nunez for acting)
  • Best Odile: Osipova
  • Best all rounder: Nunez
  • Best Act II pdd: Obraztsova
  • Best acted Odette: Nunez, no contest.
  • Best acted Siegfried: Golding from far away. Less so in cinema.
  • Best Siegfried: all have good traits. I will go with Golding.
  • Best Pas De Trois guy: James Hay
  • Best PDT girls: Yuhui Choe and Francesca Hayward
  • Best Neapolitan boy: James Hay
  • Best Neapolitan girl: Yasmine Naghdi
  • Best von Rothbart: (c’mon…no contest) GARY AVIS!
  • Best couple I saw: Salenko and McRae
  • Ideal couple: Golding and Obraztsova
  • Honourable mentions: Melissa Hamilton as one of Two Swans.
  • Best conductor: Boris Gruzin ^___^
  • Most disappointing: Osipova’s Odette.
  • Most impressive: Osipova’s Odile 😀

Fond memories

  • Golding’s Waltz moment, and his leap to the death
  • Salenko’s beating wings from deep cambré
  • Nunez’s re-enchantment and her ‘wait, boy.’ finger in the mime
  • James Hay’s gorgeous tours
  • Melissa Hamilton and sisters rising on pointe to circle Odette
  • Talented baby swans!
  • Osipova’s crazy fouetté combo
  • Takada’s échappés
  • Obraztsova’s lyricism and time stopping lifts
  • McRae’s billion mile an hour turns in Act III
  • The jocular cook
  • Girls on pointe on stools
  • The beautiful Act II curtain
  • The very lovely (at times rickety) swansleigh to heaven
  • Vadim Muntagirov
  • the Rothbart imps (one being swatted with a fan)
  • Marriott’s Rothbart’s ‘WOOO!’ face at the Queen
  • Hearing Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music so much.

I hope the Dowell production informs any new production. Rumour has it that Liam Scarlett may be attached to the project. Although Act I is very fussy, and very orange and Act III is too dark for some, literally – it is I gather textually pure. For this reason I am glad to have seen it.

Hopes:
Let’s keep the Ashton Neapolitan and the baby swans. Doing away with the Rothbart costume would be ideal – as would a wholesale tidying up of costumes in the non white acts. (Too much distraction!) I wouldn’t mine tulle or tutu for the swans. Let’s not get too neoclassical for the choreography. The Dowell text is largely fine, as is the musical editing. Ok, so the tutor could probably get kicked but no Jester, and no fishdives either! Set it back in fairytale-land. And, keep the sad ending!

(Hope you’re reading, Liam. I’ll be glad to help out. :P)

Swan Lake – Salenko, McRae, Gartside Gruzin – March 21st 2015 (matinee)

Of all the Swan Lake performances I have seen this season, this was the best. A strong statement but one borne from fact, consideration and some portion of emotion.

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