thu 25/07/2024

La Valse/ Monotones/ Marguerite & Armand, Royal Ballet | reviews, news & interviews

La Valse/ Monotones/ Marguerite & Armand, Royal Ballet

La Valse/ Monotones/ Marguerite & Armand, Royal Ballet

A quarter of a century after Ashton's death, his legacy survives, and grows

Stark grace and heroic simplicity: Edward Watson, Marianela Nuñez, Federico Bonelli in Monotones IIAll photos © Tristram Kenton/Royal Opera House

Genius does not mean having no influences. Monotones, one of the very greatest of Frederick Ashton's ballets, is heavily influenced by other works: by George Balanchine’s Theme and Variations and Apollo, by Marius Petipa’s La Bayadère. And it in turn has influenced other great works: Kenneth MacMillan’s searing Gloria would not exist without this unearthly, moon-calm vision.

Monotones II, the second or “white” half, was created first, a gala piece which defies the usual fate of gala pieces. The starkness, the heroic simplicity and grace of this trio was immediately apparent, and Ashton choreographed a frontispiece, as it were, to introduce it. Monotones II features a woman and two men, and thus I was created to mirror its shape by being choreographed for two women and one man (all ably danced last night by, for I, Emma Maguire, Akane Takada and Dawid Trzensimiech; and for II, Marianela Nuñez, Federico Bonelli and Edward Watson).

The ebb and pulse of Erik Satie’s Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes suites permits Ashton to produce ribbons of dance: in Monotones I, a back-and-forth pull-push effect, at its most simple and beautiful in the travelling arabesques, the women then the man leading and returning, as though tied with invisible bonds; Monotones II is a more liquid unfurling of linked arms and posed arabesques, so seemingly unstoppable that, like the entry of the Shades in La Bayadère, the viewer feels bereft when the series ends.

Two other gala pieces feature on this Royal Ballet Ashton commemoration (it is now a quarter-century since his death). The “Meditation” from Thaïs is a pas de deux that takes Massenet's well-known violin intermezzo and does, well, not much with it. The always valiant Leanne Benjamin does what she can, but her partner, Valeri Hristov, was not at his best last night, and was additionally burdened by Anthony Dowell’s Peter-Pan-does-the-Orient costume.

By contrast, Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell (pictured above right) made fine work of the Voices of Spring duet created for a production of Die Fledermaus. Campbell’s neat, beaten footwork was a pleasure (as is his Tintin-style quiff), and Choe’s little farewell flutter of her arms in the final lift was as joyous as it was unexpected.

The star-power for the evening, however, was in Marguerite and Armand, Ashton’s retelling of the Alexandre Dumas story of La dame aux camélias. Originally choreographed for Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev, it is heavy on attitudinizing, light on choreography, and apart from the pleasure of seeing (pictured left) Tamara Rojo (in her formal farewell to the Royal Ballet) and Sergei Polunin (in his formal let’s-make-friends-again return), the piece wears badly, with more dated costumes, this time by Cecil Beaton. (Do Marguerite’s admirers demand hardship pay for appearing in public in those dreadful wigs?)

A patchy bill, therefore, but for the pleasure of Monotones, so rarely performed, almost anything is endurable.

 Watch Alina Cojocaru and Johan Kobborg in Voices of Spring:


I have the impression that, yesterday, Judith and I were in different shows. From my point of view, Margarite and Armand saved the night while Monotones is just monotonous.

I think Judith Flanders was being unduly kind about Rojo and Polunin in M & A. I found the performance completely unmoving - she had none of Fonteyn's fragility and he had nothing of Nureyev's passion. It was all stagy and I was never involved at all. A very disappointing end to what had up till then been a really enjoyable evening. And I could not disagree more with Paul about Monotones - for me the true highlight of the performance.

Each to their own of course, but your loss [sadly] and would suggest that your views place you you firmly with the great minority of those present.

I enjoyed the entire bill, but am frankly flabbergasted that anyone — a DANCE CRITIC even — could fail to appreciate Marguerite and Armand last night. In my eyes stating that it is "it is heavy on attitudinizing, light on choreography" whilst focussing instead on descriptions of costumes and wigs renders this review just short of farcical.

I fail to see how could anyone refer to last night's M & A as unmoving. Perhaps the view from where I was sitting (Amphitheatre, so nowhere close) gave myself and those around my a different vibe. It must have been the case, for there were many around me with red eyes when the lights when finally on. Or perhaps they had red eyes from the ugly wigs and costumes as Ms.Flanders points out in her article. I also thought Monotones were delicious to watch and , although I would have also loved to see Rojo and Polunin in a rather more complex choreography, to discredit M&A as the highlight of the evening seems rather pretentious to me.

Why is it pretentious to 'discredit M &A as the highlight of the evening'? OK - you liked it, I didn't - nothing pretentious about it. And I was also in the Amphitheatre, using my powerful binoculars until the over-acting of Rojo and Polunin made it unbearable and i put them down and just watched the whole action.

Absolutely agree that Monotones was the absolute highlight. Such incredible beauty, dignity, depth. So lovely to see again! As for M&A, Sergei dances beautifully, but his acting is wooden, melodramatic at best, hammy at worst. As M&A is all about the story, with little real dance, very much a disappointment. Alex Campbell fab in Voices of Spring, such lightness of foot!

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