Robert Tanitch reviews Royal Ballet’s mixed programme at Royal Opera House, London
The programme opens with William Forsythe’ demanding, fiendishly difficult The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude to the last movement of Schubert’s Ninth Symphony. It is pure classical virtuoso technique executed at rapid, exuberant speed by a quintet of dancers, three female, two male.
George Balanchine’s Tarantella to music by Louis Moreau Gottschalk is ten minutes of playful virtuoso Neapolitan fun. Poised between folk and national dance, it is a sweet, charming and totally innocent. Meaghan Grace Hinkis and Alexander Campbell, buoyantly twee, dance side by side and solo. They flirt and beat the tambourine.
Christopher Wheldon’s Strapless to a score by Mark-Anthony Turnage, is a one-act story about the scandal caused by the unveiling of John Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame X at the 1884 Paris Salon.
The American born 19-year-old Amélie Gautreau (Lauren Cuthbertson), married to a man 21 years older, was an ambitious socialite, a professional beauty and a notorious flirt. Her lovers included the roué, Dr Pozzi (Ryoichi Hirano, looking exactly like Pozzi’s portrait).
25-year-old Sargent (Valeri Hristov) was smitten, too. His portrait showed Amélie in haughty profile, auburn hair, an exceptionally white pallor, red lips, plunging neckline, and a dress strap off her shoulder.
She thought the portrait would bring her fame; it brought her only notoriety. The posture was too sensual, too seductive; she looked too available. She was ridiculed and ostracized by high society to the end of her life.
The story would work better as a film. Given the subject matter, sex and hypocrisy, and the period, La Belle Époque, it is not difficult to imagine what Max Ophuls, director of La Ronde and Madame de…, might have done with it.
The programme ends with Liam Scarlett’s Symphonic Dances to Rachmaninoff with a cast headed by Zenaida Yanowski (retiring at the end of the season) changing character and partners (James Hay and Reece Clark) through three movements.
The stark stage is obliquely lit and the black and bright red costumes blaze. The high spots are Yanowski’s performance in swirling scarlet and the men, very masculine in long skirts.