Principal dancer Yasmine Naghdi makes a blazing debut in The Firebird in the Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill.
Against the mysterious glimmer of Stravinsky’s score, Naghdi’s scarlet-plumed creature arrows proudly through the air. She catches every darting avian accent, inflecting her wrists with a fizzing flutter. Taking an august prance downstage with a golden apple, she’s both aloof and ever so slightly playful.
Captured by Edward Watson’s Ivan Tsarevich (a prince with a boorishly Bear Grylls-like approach to exploring an enchanted garden, whose dignified carriage is somewhat undermined by his tiny felt cap), Naghdi’s mythic bird-woman retains a fiery-eyed outrage even as she tires.
Instead of being served with a woodland-based restraining order, Tsarevich is rewarded with a magic feather and a wife; the former comes in handy when he upsets Gary Avis’ Kostchei, a linguine-fingered troll with a big magic egg and a penchant for kidnapping.
Glorious designs by Natalia Goncharova (onion domes and bright pink paisley harem pants) elevate Fokine’s processional choreography for assorted patriarchs and princesses on to the plane of unforgettable iconography.
Ashton’s chamber version of Turgenev’s A Month in the Country is a sympathetic study of aristocratic ennui shaken by sudden desire, exquisitely performed by the cast. As impetuous Natalia Petrovna, Marianela Nuñez registers every flicker of romantic fantasy and sadness in the yearning arch of her upper body, while Matthew Ball is believably feckless and attractive as tutor Beliaev. The devilishly exposed formality (and diminishing aesthetic returns) of Balanchine’s Symphony in C conclude things slightly unsteadily.