Royal Ballet mixed bill review – a trio of 60s flashbacks

It’s a seemingly random selection that makes up this Royal Ballet triple bill: a piece of stark abstraction, a nostalgic character study and some 19th-century Russian classicism. However, each work reveals a facet of British ballet in the 1960s.

Kenneth MacMillan’s 1966 Concerto, created for the Berlin Opera ballet, screams modernity, with its precision pointe work and fast, unfussy dancing. This is choreography that needs to be ultra-tight to sing, but there is some first-night untidiness. The undoubted highlight of the evening is the slow pas de deux at the centre of Concerto. Lauren Cuthbertson and Reece Clarke give a masterclass in elegant clarity, in circling port de bras and long, tilting extensions, entirely unsentimental and all the better for it.

Giddy … Francesca Hayward in Enigma Variations. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Made two years after Concerto but harking back decades earlier, Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations gives life to composer Edward Elgar’s friends who inspired the eponymous score. It is a genteel picture of pipes and tweeds in shades of sepia. Ashton’s quick studies of Elgar’s social circle display his talent for imaginative ways of putting personality into steps: Matthew Ball a starched whirlwind; Francesca Hayward giddily girlish, all bouncing hair and effortless allegro (and there is something a bit icky in the way Elgar looks at her). Beyond the comical quirks, the familiar swell of Nimrod reveals an honest emotional core in this ballet about the warm ties of friendship.

Marius Petipa’s Raymonda, from 1898, was introduced to the Royal Ballet by Rudolf Nureyev in the mid-60s. The third act is presented as a standalone (the rest of the ballet’s plot immaterial, it seems), and is a Hungarian-flavoured grand vision in ivory and gold, built on stateliness rather than fireworks. Its succession of solo variations mostly fail to light up (Mayara Magri is a notable exception) until Glazunov’s music turns to seductive restraint and Sarah Lamb arrives with a clap of her hands and a stare that would turn you to stone, or jelly, and we’re in a different ballet altogether. It is a curious end to a mixed evening, that shows the Royal Ballet is, rightly, not the same company it was in the 1960s. But this programme doesn’t present them at their best.

At the Royal Opera House, London, until 20 December.

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