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The Royal Ballet: Ashton's "The Dream" and MacMillan's "Song of the Earth" at Koch Theater
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The Royal Ballet: Ashton's "The Dream" and MacMillan's "Song of the Earth" at Koch Theater

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The Joyce Theater Foundation

The Royal Ballet
(Royal Ballet Website)
President, HRH The Prince of Wales
Kevin O’Hare, Director
Barry Wordsworth, Music Director and Conductor

Music Performed Live by:
New York City Ballet Orchestra

At the David H. Koch Theater
at Lincoln Center

Press: Richard Kornberg & Associates

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
June 24, 2015

The Dream (1964): : Choreography by Frederick Ashton, Music by Felix Mendelssohn, Arranged by John Lanchbery, Designs by David Walker, Lighting Design by John B. Read, Staging by Anthony Dowell and Christopher Carr..

Conductor: Barry Wordsworth, Choir: Brooklyn Youth Chorus, Performed by Sarah Lamb as Titania, Steven McRae as Oberon, James Hay as Puck, Bennet Gartside as Bottom, Itziar Mendizabal as Helena, Christina Arestis as Hermia, Johannes Stepanek as Demetrius, Valeri Hristov as Lysander, and the Company as Rustics, Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Moth, Mustardseed, Changeling Boy, and Fairies.

What a thrill to have London’s Royal Ballet back in New York, even if for two repertory evenings, my next this coming Sunday, the 28th. Koch Theater was buzzing with ballet community regulars, called “balletomanes”, with everyone breathless as soon as the Conductor, Barry Wordsworth, lifted his baton. We’ve all heard City Ballet orchestra, which was in the pit tonight, play Mendelssohn’s music for Balanchine’s full-length, story ballet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but, with Maestro Wordsworth, they were even more scintillating and magnetic in Frederick Ashton’s one-act, The Dream. Other than the Changeling Boy, who’s briefly fought over by Titania and Oberon, tonight’s cast was all adults from The Royal. It was more sensual, textured, deeply emotional, starkly mysterious, and even edgy, when Titania, a glowing Sarah Lamb, embraces Bottom (whom she’s enamored with, thanks to Puck’s magic rose) and crawls with him behind a curtain into a wide, dark tree trunk. Ms. Lamb seemed weightless in her solos and in her Pas de Deux with Oberon, an exquisite and mesmerizing Steven McRae.

The Ashton choreography, which we’ve seen at Ballet Theatre, where that Company dances it with more stylized aesthetic, was breathtaking tonight, with Mr. McRae defying gravity in his sideways leaps, legs and feet curved horizontally toward the wings. His arms, fingers, neck, were otherworldly. He transported us into this forestial, fantasy drama. The comical partner shifting of Helena, Demetrius, Hermia, and Lysander occurs through Puck’s (a dynamic and aerobic James Hay) magic rose. Puck, on Oberon’s urging, creates havoc, making each partner desire or reject the other, depending on whom they see first, after awakening from a rose-sprinkled sleep. This scenario was more mature than we’ve seen. These were not vaudevillian characters, but adults in witty confusion. Bennet Gartside, as a flirtatious Bottom, like the Rustics, was endearing and drew us in. Ashton’s version does not have a Cavalier for Titania, so Oberon has more spotlight and import. The stage chemistry between Ms. Lamb and Mr. McRae was palpable. The adults, as the forest creatures, Cobweb, Peaseblossom, Mustardseed, Moth, as well as the ensemble of Fairies, were ethereal and elegant. The Corps danced with feathery sprightliness. The Brooklyn Youth Chorus sang with professionalism beyond its years.

One did not need to know this story to enjoy it, as the vibrancy of the theatrics was immediately expressive. Mr. Hay, as Puck, was a frisky, rambunctious creature. Oberon was truly a man in love, looking for a way to Titania’s heart. And, Titania, as well, was won over easily, first, accidentally by Bottom, then, purposefully by Oberon. The cohesion and communal rhythm of this Company made me want this ballet not to end. An ambiance of perfume and poetry emanated from a very familiar stage.

Song of the Earth (1965): Choreography by Kenneth MacMillan, Music by Gustav Mahler, Text from Hans Bethge’s The Chinese Flute, By arrangement with Universal Edition, London, Ltd., Designs by Nicholas Georgiadis, Lighting Design by John B. Read, Staging by Monica Mason and Grant Coyle, The Singers: Katherine Goeldner, mezzo-soprano, and Thomas Randle, tenor, Performed by Carlos Acosta as the Messenger of Death, and Marianela Nuñez and Company in six Songs.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth, essentially an abstract ballet, was more a vehicle to showcase the Company’s virtuosic skill, than to create a psychological study of the six Mahler songs, sung plaintively, but poignantly, by Katherine Goeldner and Thomas Randle. For me, the high point, for which I’ll be forever grateful, was seeing Carlos Acosta, who formerly danced with Ballet Theatre, and who’s been abroad for all too long. Mr. Acosta was a primal force, in a partial, facial mask, as The Messenger of Death. Marianela Nuñez, who will dance next week with Ballet Theatre, led the second and sixth songs, partnered at length by Nehemiah Kish in the sixth, the work’s finale. Mr. MacMillan premiered this ballet with the Stuttgart, as the audience would understand the German lyrics to Mahler’s six songs in the cycle. He was a friend of John Cranko, the Stuttgart’s Director.

This is a dark, stark, abstract ballet, better appreciated in the gestalt. The hazy plot, if that, is not worth the focus. Rather, the ensemble formations, the endless walking and running en pointe and spinning like a mechanical top (Ms. Nuñez), and the seething, panther-like leaps and lunges (Mr. Acosta) made it worthwhile. The singers might have been chosen better from Juilliard or local opera, but Ms. Goeldner and Mr. Randle sufficed. The takeaway images, even though MacMillan added symmetrical rows of Corps and balanced motion, evocative of the best of Balanchine, were Ms. Nuñez, at the finale, dashing to and fro, as if in a maze, mostly en pointe, distraught and desperate in gesture, and Mr. Acosta, executing his renowned leaps, jumping forward and up, then landing slowly in rounded leg extension, like a show horse over massive obstacles. I can’t wait to see him again next week, with The Royal’s second program.

Kudos to The Royal Ballet.

Steven McRae as Oberon in "The Dream"
Courtesy of ROH, Johan Persson

Royal Ballet Scene, Oberon, Titania, and Bottom in "The Dream"
Courtesy of ROH, Johan Persson

Royal Ballet Fairy Ensemble in "The Dream"
Courtesy of ROH, Johan Persson

Royal Ballet Ensemble in "Song of the Earth"
Courtesy of ROH, Johan Persson

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at