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The Dream / Symphonic Variations / Marguerite and Armand review at the Royal Opera House, London

Steven McRae and Akane Takada in The Dream, part of the Ashton triple bill at Royal Opera House. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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The Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill pays fine tribute to founder choreographer Frederick Ashton. First up is The Dream, a 50-minute Shakespearean distillation set to Mendelssohn’s incidental music, played with warmth and precision under Emmanuel Plasson’s baton.

Scholarly cynicism is no match for this ballet’s charm. Akane Takada makes an irresistible debut as Titania, her otherworldly delicacy tempered by sensuous upper body shivers. While Steven MacRae’s spikily hostile Oberon spins through the scherzo like a goblinesque gyroscope, Valentino Zucchetti’s ever-grinning Puck sometimes appears laboured, but there’s wonderful comedy from the lovers and plodding rustics, plus skimmingly neat footwork from the corps.

Symphonic Variations, a setting of Cesar Franck’s music for six white-clad dancers, delivers us into a coolly abstract realm that’s somehow suffused with mystery and intimations of tenderness. The curving black lines that adorn Sophie Federovitch’s yellow-green backdrop are given physical echo in the dancers’ restrained, weightless spools of movement, the women’s arms occasionally half-framing the men’s faces. Some secret, sublime knowledge seems to inhere within Marianela Nunez, shaping the profound sensitivity of her phrasing.

Mysticism gives way to grand passion and TB in Marguerite and Armand, a one-act adaptation of Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias, originally a star vehicle for Fonetyn and Nureyev, accompanied by Liszt’s roiling B Minor piano sonata.

In one of her final performances as principal, Zenaida Yanowsky gives a tremendously intense and intelligent performance as the tragic courtesan, though guest star Roberto Bolle’s gurning approximation of grief in the closing moments mars proceedings slightly.

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First-rate dancing in an Ashton triple bill that offers comedy, serenity and demi-monde ardour