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Rhapsody/The Two Pigeons review at Royal Opera House, London – ‘rapturous’

Scene from Rhapsody at the Royal opera House, london Photo: Tristram Kenton Scene from Rhapsody at the Royal Opera House, London Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Can there be a more nerve-wracking climax in ballet than that of The Two Pigeons? Poised precariously between soaring romance and giggling embarrassment, it depends entirely on the timing of a dove’s flight across the stage and the precision of its landing.

Frederick Ashton’s 1962 ballet is swooningly romantic and unashamedly old fashioned. The Parisian artist’s garret setting might be a cliche but the action is alive with invention. What begins as a comic ballet glides imperceptibly into a more serious realm as the two immature lovers come to terms with erotic distraction and locate the adult within themselves. Ashton’s birdlike steps, with flapping elbows and nodding heads are sharp and funny at first as the dancers shake a tail feather across the stage before softening and stretching into gestures of greater poignancy.

Both Yuhui Choe and Alexander Campbell are expressive dancers, her petit battement indicative of a fidgety young girl on the verge of womanhood. As her gypsy rival, Itziar Mendizabal exudes a sulphurous sexuality that could drag a man to Hell by way of Heaven. The delicately rapid movement of the artist’s friends contrasts sharply with the buccaneering swagger of the gypsies. And when doves fly with such accuracy there is nothing to do but hug yourself with glee.

Rhapsody is less anxiety-inducing, having been made as a birthday gift for the Queen Mother in 1980, and is as fresh as when it first emerged. Partnered by the trimly athletic James Hay, Francesca Hayward skims the stage with eloquent gaiety. From the flick of her wrists as her arms descend to the twisting back bends of her solo she radiates joy. A rapturous evening.

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Enormously pleasing Frederick Ashton double-bill confidently delivered by its human and avian cast