By Gary L. Day for The Dance Journal | ©ROH-2017 – Photographed by Tristram Kenton
The latest co-presentation by the Royal Opera House of London and Landmark Cinemas of classic stage works filmed live and presented on the silver screen will be a production by the Royal Ballet of three classic works by esteemed choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton. Ashton was one of Great Britain’s most esteemed ballet choreographers, whose long career extended from the 1920’s to the 1980’s, and he was the Founder Choreographer of the Royal Ballet.
The way Sir Frederick’s work is described in the production’s program book, “His works define the English style of ballet—characterized most notably by precise, fleet footwork, sensuous épaulement (the way the shoulders are held) and gorgeous of delicate simplicity.”
The triple bill included The Dream, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, with music by Felix Mendelssohn; Symphonic Variations, a purely abstract piece with music by César Franck; and Marguerite and Armand, with music by Franz Liszt.
The Dream opens with the fairies, and as the corps takes command of the stage, the uniqueness of Sir Frederick’s line work is immediately apparent. It is dominated by fast, precise footwork, but also includes kinetic and complex upper body movement as well. Ashton takes a similar approach with all the fairy roles: Oberon, Titania and Puck, giving them a power and aerial athleticism that sets them apart from the mortals.
Speaking of the mortals, Sir Frederick takes a completely different approach with them, making them more restrained and graceful, as opposed to the kineticism of the fairies, perhaps to draw a contrast between the magical fairies and the more mundane mortals.
The final love duet with Oberon and Titania may be one of the most romantic and beautiful love duets ever devised. One of the advantages of seeing filmed dance is the frequent close-ups that permit one to examine the dancers closely, and to see fine choreographic details one might otherwise miss.
The second on the program, Symphonic Variations, is a completely abstract piece, and is reputed to be among the most difficult of Ashton’s works, though the six dancers (3 men, 3 women) seemed to carry off the complicated choreography without visible strain. The music by Franck was melodic and beautiful; and the choreography was graceful and precise. It is a short piece that still satisfies in its artistry and invention.
The third portion of the program, Marguerite and Armand, is a return to more traditional storytelling in a more operatic style. Originally choreographed for that legendary duo Margot Fonteyne and Rudolf Nureyev, Marguerite and Armand is a Romeo & Juliet-ish melodrama involving grand love vs. duty to one’s family. Set to a tempestuous score by Liszt, Sir Frederick rises to the occasion by giving us over-the-top gestures, a swooning heroine and dramatic tableaux. Featured is the artistry of Zenaida Yanowsky as Marguerite (in her final performance before retiring), accompanied by the gorgeous Roberto Bolle as Armand.
The Royal Ballet presents classical ballet in the grand style, with ravishing sets and costumes, and world-class dancers at the top of their form. Aficionados of classical ballet told in the grand style with exquisite artistry, should avail themselves of this opportunity to sample some great work from beyond the pond.
The Royal Opera House presents the Royal Ballet production of Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Dream/Symphonic Variations/Marguerite and Armand on July 11 at the Landmark Ritz 5, 214 Walnut Street. Times and ticket info, visit www.landmarktheatres.com/philadelphia.