Much as happens with real-life weddings, thanks to Covid, the guest list at Princess Aurora’s nuptials has shrunk. A bubble of dancers went into self isolation in the run-up to the Royal Ballet’s latest opening, meaning a hasty reorganisation for some of this mixed bill.
Act three of Sleeping Beauty (performed as a standalone finale, making this a long evening), had a reduced cast but it didn’t dent the star billing, ever-perfect Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov, nor Meaghan Grace Hinkis’s noteworthy Princess Florine: animated, technical, musical. Meanwhile, the opener, Anemoi, was reworked at the last minute by Valentino Zucchetti. Expanded from his lockdown piece Scherzo, made for the company’s corps de ballet, the new title refers to the wind gods of Greek myth, and there is an almost visible breeze brushing through the deftly written choreography. Zucchetti favours modest, elegant geometry over the hyper-extended shapes of contemporary ballet and there are some lovely moments where your eyes alight on a particular tableau before everything moves off again.
At the centre of the show is a series of pas de deux, wildly varying in style. On the heritage side, Laura Morera and Ryoichi Hirano don’t put a foot (or hand, or head) wrong in the Winter Dreams pas de deux by Kenneth MacMillan, based on Chekhov’s Three Sisters. It’s such a mature, sensitive performance, grand passion held in great restraint. Then there’s Frederick Ashton’s Voices of Spring, from 1977. From Anna Rose O’Sullivan’s wig of piled-up curls, to the rose petals she scatters as Marcelino Sambé lifts her through the air, to the oom-pah sound of a Strauss waltz, it is a kitsch eight minutes, which Sambé and O’Sullivan sell with all their might.
Of more recent works, Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales perform Wayne McGregor’s Morgen, a short, slight piece (with soprano Sarah-Jane Lewis singing Richard Strauss on stage). What’s fascinating is the way the two dancers approach McGregor’s movement: Corrales pulls and pushes McGregor’s shapes into being, whereas Hayward almost just allows it all to happen to her.
A real highlight is Mayara Magri in Mats Ek’s Woman with Water – only created last year for Royal Swedish Ballet. It’s clever, funny, a single simple idea that contains multitudes. Magri duets with a green table, a tall Norwegian (Lukas Bjørneboe Brændsrød) and a glass of water, the last of which is the real object of all her desires, as if a woman had never had her thirst quenched before. Magri, in orange maxi dress, is transformed from classical dancer into a woman of bold, expansive exclamation using the full reach of her body; you want to drink her in.
Ditto Beatriz Stix-Brunell, a much-loved American first soloist who is leaving the Royal Ballet next month. She started out dancing with Christopher Wheeldon’s company Morphoses aged 14 and ends with a Wheeldon duet, After the Rain. The daringly slow choreography takes its lead from Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel and it feels as if everything is suspended, the violin’s vibrations, Stix-Brunell’s body in the sky by Reece Clarke, time itself. It’s a great choice of piece to bow out on. Despite the languid speed, the mood is never indulgent but totally present. Stix-Brunell has time to enjoy the way her body moves each molecule of air around her – and so do we.
Royal Ballet: Beauty Mixed Programme is at Royal Opera House, London, until 11 July.