APOLLO and A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
Mariinsky Ballet at the Royal Opera House
This generous double bill celebrates the work of George Balanchine, who began as a dancer with the Mariinsky [then the Imperial Russian Ballet] at the age of 11.
The neo-classical Apollo, to Stravinsky's string music – the orchestra here directed by Gavriel Heine – tells of the birth of Apollo, who leads the three muses up to Mount Parnassus.
A youthful team, with the British dancer Xander Parish as the god, finding his feet, like a newborn fawn, and interacting beautifully with the three muses in the Pas d'Action. His Terpsichore is the wonderful Kristina Shapran, an engaging, playful interpretation.
The Dream, Balanchine's first original full-length ballet, is a very traditional beast indeed [compared, say, with Ashton's Dream, or David Nixon's Flying Scotsman version for Northern Ballet]. It's Shakespeare as the Victorians liked it, with Mendelssohn's music, splendid costumes, fairies with diaphanous wings and lots of tiny sprites filling the stage.
But much of the Bard's magic remains, with a Tudor “Indian Boy” and a muscular, mischievous Puck from Grigory Popov, getting a well-deserved kick up the bum from Timur Askerov's impressive Oberon. The mechanicals, each with their attribute, like a saint, get a look-in too, though their “tedious brief comedy” is axed in favour of extended tights-and-tutus wedding dances for Act II, where the lovers, colour-coded midnight blue and scarlet, join immortals, nobility and the divertissement for an impeccable showcase of classical choreography. And, right at the end, back to the text, with Robin sweeping the dust behind the door at fairytime and flying off into the star-studded Midsummer Night.
The Mariinsky – more familiar to some of us as the Kirov – are widely regarded as the keepers of the flame, global ambassadors from the home of Russian ballet. A real treat to see them – the seasoned principals, the young stars and the unrivalled corps de ballet – in this tribute to Balanchine, the first time this 2012 Dream has left its homeland.
photograph of Xander Parish as Apollo: Valentin Baranovsky
view of the Dream curtain call from our perch in the gods ...