The Royal Ballet’s double bill of The Dream and Song of the Earth is a near perfect matching. Frederick Ashton’s gossamer-light interpretation of Shakespeare’s romantic comedy is easy to like and a pleasure to watch, although that doesn’t mean it is easy to dance. By contrast, Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth is among ballet’s most serious works. It’s set to Mahler’s eponymous song cycle and tells of the renewal of life - with the Messenger of Death always close at hand.
Carlos Acosta outshone himself in that role on opening night. Now in his late thirties, the Cuban star is no longer at his virtuoso peak, but his professionalism and artistry more than compensated for any small loss of form. Tamara Rojo as the Woman was equally impressive, solemn in expression and serious in intent. Rupert Pennefather made his debut as the Man, and gave a performance noteworthy for its composure and gentleness, although, perhaps inevitably, he made less of an impression alongside Acosta’s megawatt charisma.
In The Dream, Steven McRae had the unenviable task of replacing the errant Sergei Polunin who abruptly resigned from The Royal Ballet last week - and for whom many of the audience would have bought their tickets. McRae is a serious dancer and able actor, easily inhabiting the role of Oberon and dancing the deceptively difficult steps with polish and flair. He also ably partnered Alina Cojocaru, who perhaps needed to convey a little more gentleness as Titania, the queen of the fairies.