To the Royal Opera House for the general rehearsal (R.O.H. term for a dress rehearsal i.e. a full performance just before the opening night) of a ballet triple bill. Enjoyable but slightly misconceived as an overall programme. As a festive season entertainment it started well with Frederick Ashton’s fluffy Les Patineurs (the skaters) with delicious music by Meyerbeer, arranged by Constant Lambert. (To digress I’ve just been reading about Lambert in Hilary Spurling’s excellent biography of Anthony Powell. She describes a wonderful pen picture of the young Lambert who claimed to be “the only francophil composer from St. Petersburg who worked on the Trans-Siberian railway who can play God save the King literally by ear.” His party trick was to hold his nose and play tunes through his punctured eardrum. If so afflicted, don’t try this at home.) Hard to imagine but the ballet consists of dancers quite realistically impersonating skaters.
Then the mood changed (as it often does with Kenneth Macmillan’s ballets) with a performance of Winter Dreams. M.A.E. admits to not having done his homework on this one. An open stage with three “windows” at the rear each partially obscured by gauze. The left one shows a pianist in 19th century military uniform, the right one a small balalaika band and the middle a dining table with a dozen guests. Periodically guests leave the table and come to dance in pairs or threes on the main stage, to music by Tchaikovsky. Gradually the dances become more heated. A female dancer slaps a male dancer. A dancer is challenged to a duel which results in a dancer being shot and killed. Suddenly it dawns that we are in the world of Chekov’s Three Sisters. Well-danced to be sure (the cast was coached by Darcy Bussell, Irek Mukhamedov and Stephen Wicks who were in the original production) but should it have been in this show when many children were in the audience for a Christmas treat? Was it an inspired provocative decision or were the planners taken in by the title? There are many Royal Ballet triple bills where it would fit perfectly – just not this one.
To finish the performance we were treated to something much more suitable: Jerome Robbins’ The Concert, originally given the subtitle (or The Perils of Everybody) first performed in New York City in 1956. The idea is a simple one, but made increasingly surreal by the costumes and events. A pianist (Robert Clark) comes on stage to give a Chopin concert. Various potential audience members arrive with folding chairs wearing either old fashioned swimming costumes or preppy 1950s holiday clothes. Much comic swapping of chairs to get the best position. Lady in big feathery hat (Laura Morera - think Anita O’Day at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival) with lecherous husband (Bennet Gartside) pursuing lithe, sexy, bathing beauty Lauren Cuthbertson. Ballerinas in tutus being carried on as if they are clockwork toys, then set going. One is just behind the beat. A minor comic classic – no less than the quality one would expect from the man who choreographed West Side Story.
Overall **** - but do your homework and be prepared for the Russian despondency of Winter Dreams if the Royal Ballet put on this triple bill again.