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Asphodel Meadows, Enigma Variations, Gloria review at The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden London

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Another week, another fine triple bill from the Royal Ballet. This one has new boy Liam Scarlett jostling for position with old stagers Frederick Ashton and Kenneth Macmillan.

Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows is a thing of monochrome beauty – superbly designed around three couples and a medium-sized corps de ballet. Yet the work appears much bigger than it actually is, as Scarlett throws everything into it, from unrestrained lifts to the calculated flick of a finger. Sliding panels and stark white lighting provide the minimalist backdrop for a series of complex group patterns into which leak dialogues between the couples in glowing pas de deux. Poulenc’s Double Piano Concerto offers passages of graceful tranquillity as well as accelerated and vibrant ferocity. I was particularly struck by the strength and emotional resonance of Leanne Cope and Jose Martin.

Ashton’s most extraordinarily detailed character ballet, Enigma Variations, is closer to a play without words than pure ballet. Studded with period detail in the props and costumes, it effortlessly conveys the emotional gamut of missed opportunities, marital fidelity, heartache, hope and disappointment. Ashton pares down his gorgeous elongations and romantic stretches to the minimum to convey the stiff-upper lippery of Elgar’s complex relationships with his extended family. Standing in for the injured Zenaida Yanowsky, Christina Arestis is outstanding and tremendously moving as The Lady, Elgar’s wife.

Finally, Macmillan’s drop-dead masterpiece Gloria is a tribute to and a lament for the fallen of The Great War. A stark and beautiful creation, with Edward Watson, Nehemiah Kish and Liam Scarlett as earth-coloured soldiers rising from their graves to deliver a series of interleaving solos with the ghost-like corps of mourning women. Watson is singularly articulate in conveying the agony of the dead or dying soldier, twisting himself into contortions of grotesque beauty. The literally uplifting ending is moving beyond words.

A sobering, thoughtful programme tinged with delicious melancholy.

Production Information

The Royal Ballet at Covent Garden, London, November 19-30

Liam Scarlett, Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan
The Royal Ballet
Cast includes
Edward Watson, Christopher Saunders, Nehemiah Kish, Sarah Lamb, Steven McRae, Leanne Cope, Yuhui Choe, Jose Martin
Running time
2hrs 35mins

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