Review: Royal Ballet in Serenade/Rushes – Fragments of a Lost Story/Homage to the Queen at Royal Opera House

Performance: in rep to 14 May 08
Reviewed by Graham Watts - Friday 25 April 2008

23 April 2008

This was an evening that fell unaccountably flat even though it’s hard to fault any of its ingredients; perhaps it was the lack of any continuity in the theme or style of the overall programme; or perhaps it was an inevitable consequence of there being empty seats on a First Night with a World Premiere.

Kim Brandstrup’s first work for the main stage of the Opera House deserved to generate more excitement, if only for the unique blockbuster pairing of Carlos Acosta and Alina Cojocaru, which alone should have ensured a full house. But the problem for this new work is contained in its long title; where Brandstrup has deliberately constructed a short ballet that represents fragments of a lost story (seen through the rushes of a film), it was easier for his audience to misconstrue this as an incomplete and incoherent work rather than accept the intellectual challenge of putting the parts together.

Fragmentation characterises every aspect of the work, even the music is derived from the shreds of Prokofiev’s discarded ideas to score a film that was never made, now wonderfully sown together by Michael Berkeley; it has rich resonances of Prokofiev’s music for Romeo & Juliet (the two works were written more or less concurrently) and also of its era (Russia in the 1930s) and this effective imagery flows through the design, including imaginative lighting which continues into the curtain calls.

For most of the work, a net curtain divides up and down-stage, allowing the opportunity both to screen contextual film and to separate ensemble dance sequences as a backdrop to the fragments of this lost story involving a man (Acosta) and the two women in his life, the one he desires (Laura Morera) and the other who dotes on him, but to whom he is oblivious (Cojocaru). Brandstrup’s choreography clearly delineates these relationships, particularly in the way that Cojocaru’s character regularly moves aside to avoid the man’s steps. His work for couples is always passionate with a long, liquid flow and the two pas de deux here can only enhance this reputation; the opener (with Morera) is a scintillating dance of desire (it’s here where the score most resembles ‘R & J’); and the concluding duet with Cojocaru is equally dynamic, but with enriched qualities of tenderness and sensitivity. We expect brilliance from Acosta and Cojocaru and they don’t disappoint in this long anticipated partnership; Cojocaru was so effective as the lonely wallflower that I had to check to be sure it was actually her; but the revelation was Morera’s red-hot dancing as the other woman, which more than matched her better-known peers. Perhaps the most telling moment of the evening was the embrace between Cojocaru and Brandstrup at the end: a kiss that plainly conveyed her gratitude for having something new and exciting to dance.

The Brandstrup premiere was preceded by the return of Balanchine’s Serenade, to give an interesting comparison with the New York City Ballet’s interpretation performed at the Coliseum, just over a month ago. It is the first work that Balanchine made in the USA and is in City Ballet’s DNA but the fact that the Royal is increasingly becoming a Balanchine company was articulated by the whole ensemble rising very favourably to the challenge of this reality check. The evening concluded with a quick revival of the quintessentially British _*Homage to the Queen* _ – recreated in 2006 for her 80th Birthday. Although performed well, this luscious pageantry didn’t follow naturally after the Brandstrup and lacked the sense of occasion that the work needs.

On an evening that saw one of the cleverest and, ironically (given its title), most complete world premieres at the Royal Ballet in recent years, it was a great shame that the overall programme didn’t match the occasion. There have been many new works that I expect we will never see again, but I sincerely hope that this is not to be one of them.

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