Les Noces is the masterpiece in this Royal Ballet triple bill

Jul 5, 2012

Frederick Ashton tribute features one of the greatest dance works of the 20th century

What you need to know
The Royal Ballet's latest triple bill is a tribute to Frederick Ashton, founding choreographer of The Royal Ballet. It begins with Ashton's Birthday Offering, first created in 1956 to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of The Royal Ballet (formerly Sadler's Wells Ballet) as well as a tribute to the company's founder Ninette de Valois.
The ballet is performed alongside another work by Ashton – A Month in the Country – based on Turgenev's play about unrequited love of the same name.

The third part of the bill is Bronislava Nijinska's Les Noces, a modernist look at traditional Russian peasant weddings with a score by Stravinsky. This version of the ballet was passed on to Ashton Nijinska (sister of the renowned Nijinsky) herself.

The triple bill is Dame Monica Mason's penultimate piece of programming in her role as director. On stage at the Royal Opera House until 7 July.

What the critics like
Nijinska's Les Noces is one of the great dance-works of the 20th century, says Clement Crisp in The Financial Times. The Royal Ballet revival provides "a superlative performance in which its every virtue – dance as architecture built from the folk tradition's simplicities" is respected. This Royal Ballet ensemble is superb, "united in dynamics and devotedly expressive in shaping Nijinska's masterpiece". Unerring vocalists, percussion and pianists honoured the "ferociously difficult" Stravinsky score.
A Month in the Country is "a masterly haiku", says Sarah Crompton in The Daily Telegraph. It "compresses all the emotion of a long, wordy play, into 40 minutes of glorious dance". Dancer Emma Maguire "dazzles" as the young ward, "understanding both the light sharpness of the steps and the emotions they conveyed".

The evening's light relief comes with Ashton's Birthday Offering, says Judith Mackrell in The Guardian. It's a piece of dazzlingly tricky classical invention. Created in 1956, its "inspiring choreography", even today, pushes dancers to the edge of their musical and technical limits.

Dance theatre just doesn't come any better than Les Noces, says Graham Watts for London Dance. It is certainly "a wonderful flourish" to Dame Monica Mason's closing signature as director.

What they don't like
This production of A Month in the Country is too laboured even to be funny, says Clement Crisp in the Financial Times. "Scenery was rarely chewed to less purpose." Ashton's once beguiling Birthday Offering looks like it's been left out in the rain. But Les Noces is so tremendous an event that the rest of this triple bill "can be forgiven for its moping".

[Photo Credit: Tristram Kenton, courtesy of ROH]

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