Frederick Ashton was the first principal choreographer of the Royal Ballet and, given the diversity of his output, programmes consisting entirely of his creations tend to work a treat. This latest double bill is no exception as it pairs an abstract ballet with one possessing a strong narrative thrust.
The latter is The Two Pigeons, which was staged by the Royal Ballet last November for the first time in thirty years. Set in Bohemian Paris at the end of the 19th century, it is a fable about love and lost innocence. A young painter, disillusioned with the life he shares with his fiancée, finds enchantment when a troupe of gypsies arrive in town. This leads him to flirt with a gypsy woman, but when he runs away to join the troupe and be with her, he discovers that gypsy life has a way of turning sour, and that gypsies have a way of turning on him! After he realises his error, he returns to his fiancée who, as the pair execute the most moving pas de deux, reveals her loving heart by forgiving him.
The piece requires actions such as fidgeting while trying to sit still for a portrait to be executed in balletic form. This makes for a very innovative work, and Yuhui Choe as the Young Girl and Alexander Campbell as the Young Boy prove exceptional, both in terms of the quality of their movement and their characterisation. As Choe struts like a pigeon we really feel the way in which she is asking for the Young Boy’s affection. He in turn is annoyed that she can’t sit still for him, but when Campbell responds to Choe’s gesture one feels that he is making a statement of his own by strutting harder than her! Itziar Mendizabal is brilliantly flashy and seductive as the Gypsy Girl, while the troupe of Gypsies (Artists of the Royal Ballet) dance with panache. The piece is also famous for its use of two live pigeons on stage, and they behave impeccably as they fly to where they should be at exactly the right time.
When The Two Pigeons appeared last November, it was paired with Ashton’s Monotones I and II of 1965. This time the programme opens with Rhapsody of 1980. It sees two soloists and a further 12 dancers perform to the generally exuberant Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini by Sergey Rachmaninoff. It is beautifully executed with James Hay’s smooth, light and supple approach working very well with the rhythmic, pulsating style of Francesca Hayward. The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, conducted by Barry Wordsworth, is also in fine shape, with Robert Clark’s solo piano in Rhapsody standing out in particular.
Until 30 January (seven performances) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden WC2E 9DD. Casts vary over the run. For further details and tickets (£4-£100) visit the Royal Opera House website. Londonist saw this ballet on a complimentary ticket.
The performance on 26 January will be broadcast live to selected cinemas in the UK and worldwide, while some cinemas will show encore screenings on subsequent days. For details of participating venues, visit the Royal Opera House Live Cinema Season page.