Ballet Royale

Ballet is so much more affordable than opera at Covent Garden so it is possible to get really great seats – provided you can get out of the virtual waiting room and on to the Royal Opera House online booking system. The bonus of this online booking is he chance to see cast lists in advance and Man in Chair could not resist the chance to see legendary Cuban ballet star Carlos Acosta not once but twice.

The Nutcracker
The Royal Ballet
7.30pm Wednesday 18 January 2012

Nutcrackers don’t come more traditional than this lavish production, which complements its sugar plums and snowflakes with a deliberately strong focus on dance. It might sound obvious for a ballet to focus on dance, but, to their detriment, many a frivolous Nutcracker favours style over substance.

Australia’s Steven McRae (below), currently enjoying a stellar run at Royal Ballet, was a stunningly athletic and elegant Prince. Brazilian Roberta Marquez proved equally dazzling as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

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The twelve female ballerinas of the corps were also a highlight amongst this massive cast.

Act two flew by, with each of the famous dances given careful, distinctive, supremely skilled treatments.

Given the family-friendly nature of The Nutcracker, the packed house being almost completely devoid of children indicates that it also appeals to everyone’s inner child at Christmas.

Romeo and Juliet
The Royal Ballet
7.30pm Thursday 19 January 2012

It is almost impossible to describe the combination of talents involved in this breathtaking performance. Prokofiev’s glorious score, Kenneth MacMillan’s epic choreography and Nicholas Georgiadis’ magnificent designs are each of the highest possible quality, but to see this legendary ballet performed by the two of the greatest living dancers at the height if the powers is the icing on the already delicious cake.

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Superstars Tamara Rojo and Carlos Acosta (pictured), dancers of choice for filmed releases and headliners of Romeo and Juliet at the O2 Arena, are absolutely amazing to see live and the performance is one that Man in Chair will remember as a high point for many years to come. It certainly went a long way to expunging the memory of Graeme Murphy’s controversial 2011 Australian Ballet staging, which went from highly anticipated to notorious in one swift opening night.

Rojo is impossibly slight, beautiful in the young Audrey Hepburn mould. Completely believable as the innocent young Juliet, barely finished playing with dolls before her patents present her arranged husband Paris. Her combination of iron strength with delicate beauty is what every prima ballerina aspires to but few reach.

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Acosta is a study in contradictions, and every inch the absolute legend he fully deserves to be. Tall and broad shouldered, he leaps and spins with exquisite grace. Supremely masculine and almost brutishly handsome, his face melts to reflect the tenderest moment. Boyishly playful one moment and gravely ponderous the next, he is the perfect Romeo.

Special mention to Kenta Kura, a playfully boyish and effortlessly elegant Benvolio.

The Dream / Song of the Earth
The Royal Ballet
7.30pm Wednesday 1 February 2012

A sharply contrasted pair of works combine for an immensely satisfying evening.

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The Dream in question is that which transpired on a Midsummer Night. Mendelssohn’s music, Wedding March and all, is as gorgeous as David Walker’s lavish, traditional sets and costumes. Particularly entrancing are the delicately dusky costumes for the Fairies.

Frederick Ashton’s abridged version is like watching the beloved Shakespeare comedy in fast forward. Story-telling is brisk and clear, and the 52 minutes zip by in a haze of delight. A special vocabulary of movement for Bottom and the Rustic theatre players separates them from the more gracious royals and more nimble woodland dwellers.

Impossibly delicate Alina Cojocaru is an exquisite Titania. Another chance to see Australian Steven McRae is most welcome, despite the disappointment of missing out on seeing very recently departed Sergei Polunin on the ROH stage. Cojocaru and McRae (below)’danced a sterling pas de deux at the ballet’s climax, and acting from both was strong.

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Valentino Zucchetti provided wonderful support as an athletic, mischievous Puck.

After the lush scenery for the first half, the bare grey stage for Song of the Earth was a bit of a shock. It turns out that the Song of the title is quite literal, with Katharine Goeldner and Toby Spence on hand to sing Mahler’s music. The mix of song and dance made for a real culmination of the arts, although design let the collaboration down somewhat with its absolute simplicity.

It was wonderful to watch Carlos Acosta perform pure dance without all the trappings, although there is a little acting involved in his role as Messenger of Death. Acosta gives a masterful, commanding performance. Tamara Rojo is featherlight perfection as ever, beaming her inner glow as she dances.

Rupert Pennefather (with Rojo and Acosta below) makes an excellent impression in this work. Tall, blonde and strikingly handsome, Pennefather dances with manly strength balanced with precise grace. Pieces featuring Acosta, Rojo and Pennefather dancing together were an absolute highlight of the ballet.

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Photos: The Nutcracker- Johan Persson; All others- Simon Parris

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