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Contrasts review at the Royal Opera House, London – ‘Mariinsky Ballet shows versatility’

Grand Pas from Paquita by the Mariinksy Ballet. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky Grand Pas from Paquita by the Mariinksy Ballet. Photo: Valentin Baranovsky
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As a reaction to the conservative choices of the Mariinsky season (including Swan Lake and Don Quixote), this triple bill is positively anarchic. With a cavalier disregard for thematic unity, the three works chosen provide more of a lucky dip than an evening of controlled consistency.

The bewildered reactions of some audience members to Wayne McGregor’s Infra suggests that the followers of classical ballet companies are less adventurous than the companies themselves. Yet McGregor’s work – originally made at the Royal Ballet in 2008 – demands classical ballet training to interpret his alien, post-classical contortions and Mariinsky performs it with redoubtable attack.

Max Richter’s score, which shuttles between city street sounds and headily atmospheric strings – beautifully played by Mariinsky Orchestra soloists – informs an abstract impressionistic work concerning urban anonymity and the search for human connection in an increasingly drone-like society. Julian Opie’s animated commuters walk back and forth above the dancers, whose bending, curling upper body gestures and jutting extensions invoke images of horses and birds.

Alberto Alonso’s minimalist Carmen was made in 1967 and now looks like a historical artefact. It is too lively and striking to be an obvious museum piece, especially given Ekatarina Kondaurova’s imperious and controlled sexuality in the central role. The four six o’clock positions in a row were enough to bring any man to his knees. For his treatment of Georges Bizet’s score, however, Rodion Shchedrin should be convicted of GMH – Grievous Musical Harm.

Back to the safe option with Grand Pas from Paquita, which is spangled tutus a go-go as the spritely corps de ballet prances happily through the ensembles before a series of variations of accelerating momentum. Xander Parish is the lone male and, after a couple of untidy finishes, he redeems himself with a series of grand jetes that drew applause.

All wrapped up in Ludwig Minkus’ score, it is a spirited confection that effortlessly conjures thoughts of Vienna and sachertorte. Which is odd, as it is set in Spain.

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A capricious selection of ancient and modern works illustrates the company’s versatility and fastidious technique