Thoughts on the Royal Ballet’s Ashton Mixed Programme

So my double coup of watching two of the Royal Ballet’s mixed programmes is over – I saw classic works by Sir Frederick Ashton on Tuesday, and newer choreographies by Liam Scarlett, Kim Brandstrup and Christopher Wheeldon on Thursday. The overall experience can be described very simply – each of the programmes was a mixed bag.

My first brush with Ashton’s works was during this year’s World Ballet Day, where the Royal Ballet shared a glimpse of Scènes de ballet being rehearsed. I didn’t find it particularly interesting to watch then, but thought that all the critical acclaim and awed tones used when speaking of Ashton surely have to count for something.

It was no surprise, however, that I didn’t enjoy Scènes de ballet at all.  I’m certain that my restricted view at the upper left slips didn’t allow me to fully appreciate the ballet as nearly half the stage was obscured, but the activity on stage seemed jerky, discordant and slightly messy at times. Stravinsky, in his usual fashion, was an assault on the ears and screeched to a crescendo, but the build up to the finale was hardly in existence and the ending was an unsatisfying finish.

In addition, the purple and yellow colour combination of the costumes was quite horrific and the significance of the geometric shapes at the torso was lost on me. The stark juxtaposition of that set of costumes against the chic headdresses, chokers and bracelets the female dancers wore is also beyond my comprehension – I clearly am missing something here!

Source: The Guardian

In contrast, Helen Crawford was a breath of fresh air in Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan. She captivated me with her uninhibited movements across the stage in a way that none of the dancers in Scènes did. It’s also a rather superficial observation, but I have to say that Crawford had some superb petal scattering – I was quite fascinated by how she managed to release the petals so evenly that they made a lovely pattern on the stage.

Next in line was Symphonic Variations, described by the Royal Ballet as one of Ashton’s “masterpieces”. Again, I think my seat diluted my appreciation of this piece, but while I was impressed by the technical difficulty of the steps, the ballet didn’t evoke any other emotions in me and felt slightly old and somewhat bland. A review in the Guardian (albeit of a much earlier show) described the piece as “lacking joy”, and I wonder if this is the missing factor in what I saw that night.

By that point in the evening, I was fairly disappointed by my experience of Ashton’s works. Happily, A Month in the Country turned that all around by being an absolute joy to watch. I loved the comic moments in the first third of the piece, and the movements were quite exhilarating to see. While there was superb dancing from all, Zenaida Yanowsky stole the show with her excellent acting, emoting with every flick of the wrist or tilt of the head. A friend of mine who saw her recently in Manon had nothing but praise for Yanowsky, and I enjoyed her performance in A Winter’s Tale, so I’m definitely keeping an eye out for her in future.

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