The Royal Ballet’s penultimate programme of its 2011/12 season, which is also Monica Mason’s last as its director, is a triple bill that demonstrates the company’s diverse repertory and able dancers. Perhaps the highlight of a strong evening was Bronislava Nijinska’s strange ballet Les Noces, a work commissioned by Serge Diaghilev for his Ballets Russes in 1923 to new music by Igor Stravinsky. Les Noces depicts a Russian village wedding, but it is very far from the jolly celebrations the subject suggests. Instead of bucolic merry-making, it is a sombre, monochromatic account of the tribal requirements of marriage, and its odd gestures - the half-clenched fists, the anonymous faces - convey its fears and obligations rather than its joys. As the bride, Christina Arestis maintained a trance-like expression that exactly caught the non-negotiability of village life.
Federico Bonelli and Tamara Rojo in Birthday Offering at the Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
In contrast, Zenaida Yanowsky’s portrayed a gamut of emotions as the bored, spoilt but hopelessly enamoured heroine Natalia Petrovna in Frederick Ashton’s A Month in the Country. Made in 1976, it was Ashton’s last great work, artfully condensing Turgenev’s play into five memorably pas de deux. The eight-strong cast were all good, although Yanowsky, as ever, stood out, as did Rupert Pennefather who as the Tutor Beliaev showed his increasing maturity and assurance as a lead dancer.
The programme opened with Ashton’s Birthday Offering, notable for Tamara Rojo dancing what will be one of her last performances with The Royal Ballet before she takes up directorship of English National Ballet.