Frederick Ashton still ranks as one of the most imaginative, protean voices in the British Romantic tradition. There could hardly be two ballets more diametrically opposed than those which make up the Royal’s current double bill – Monotones I and II, with its limpid restraint, and The Two Pigeons, with its whirl of colour and melodrama. Yet at the core of both is a belief in the sublime, a reaching for transcendence that’s key to Ashton’s choreographic vision.
The two trios that make up Monotones are unusual in their flirtation with pure line, as Ashton responds to his two Satie scores (Gymnopédies and Gnossiennes) with distilled modules of movement that resonate into stillness and space. For the dancers, confined to a palette of deceptively simple runs and jumps, and slowly unfolding balances, the challenge of the work is a double whammy of expression and control. Any faltering of focus and the choreography does not sing. Yasmine Naghdi is particularly good in the opening trio, her plush arabesque both sensuous and refined. Marianela Nuñez in the second is quite wonderful, majestic in the sculpting of her movement, but tenderly expressive in the placing of her hands and the glance of her eyes. As her two excellent partners wind and fold her body through long, spooling phrases, the three of them create an image of harmony and collective beauty that expands magically beyond ballet’s minimal means.
It’s 30 years since the Royal last danced The Two Pigeons – and perhaps for good reason. Some of its jokes feel laboured, and its two acts would be better edited into one. But this sparky revival makes as good a case for the work as I’ve seen. Vadim Muntagirov is a natural as the ballet’s susceptible hero, convincingly naive in his pursuit of a bohemian fantasy but masterfully in control of the choreography’s technical challenges, his dancing elegant, musical and free.
As the two women competing for his attention, Laura Morera romps and glitters as the Gypsy Girl, and Lauren Cuthbertson invests the coquettish Young Girl with charm and character. She’s a young woman of sharp edges, curiosity and heart, and when she dances her last duet with Muntagirov, their yielding, softly plunging movement shifts the ballet into pure Ashtonian emotion. When their final embrace is framed by the billing and cooing of two live pigeons on stage, the outrageous sentimentality of the image feels properly earned.
- In rep at the Royal Opera House, London, until 5 December. Box office: 020-7304 4000.