Royal Ballet triple bill – review

Royal Opera House, London

Ashton's Scènes de Ballet comes as close to perfect as any ballet I know. Its choreographic patterns evolve with a miraculous, skin-prickling precision, and underlying the scintillating elegance of its surface style is a drama of dark, burnished romanticism. Ashton may present his dancers as glamorous party people, yet they inhabit an emotional landscape that is almost mythical in its scale and resonance.

Scènes is a killingly hard ballet to dance, but Sergei Polunin, making his debut, makes it looks effortless. His poise is regal, and the shining clarity of his jumps cut like a blade into the musical pulse. Lauren Cuthbertson matches Polunin with a supremely intelligent grasp of Ashton's style: this is evident in the wit and snap of her musical inflection, the poetry she can evoke through the turn of her head, the flick of her wrist. What Cuthbertson still has to master are the lavishly classical moments in Ashton's choreography, where chic princess yields to grand ballerina.

Though Ashton's choreography is harder to dance than it appears, Glen Tetley's Voluntaries is blatantly high-impact, with volleys of jetés that explode across the stage; flying, acrobatic duets; and a tone of cosmic high seriousness. It is dance and emotion on steroids, the thrill of which starts to fade after 15 minutes. But it is justified by some fine performances, especially from Leanne Benjamin, whose tiny, intent body practically goes into orbit.

High-impact, too, is Kenneth MacMillan's The Rite of Spring, with 46 dancers pitting their bodies against the ecstatic churning rhythms of Stravinsky score. This season, the Chosen Maiden is being danced by men; here, Steven McRae does not fully convince us he is in touch with visions, but brings a compelling physical range of qualities to the role – delicate, hunted and flayed.

Contributor

Judith Mackrell

The GuardianTramp

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