A Russian/Californian in London: The Royal Ballet Performs “Birthday Offering,” “A Month In The Country” and “Les Noces” at Covent Garden

By Ella Leya, iRoM’s European Correspondent

LondonThe rain’s been on and off since April here. Actually mostly on. But surprisingly, no complains on my part. Maybe a little bit, when I see the same perfect 72 degrees and sunshine on the Laguna Beach weather page on my iPhone.Pre-Olympic London is magnificent nonetheless. My favorite Regents Park, St. James, Hyde Park and their numerous smaller siblings on every other corner drown in lush greens, the rose gardens named after every British Princess emit their royal aromas, and the streets decorated with colorful international regalia are all elegance and grandeur.

Royal Opera House Covent Garden

And of course another feast at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, where the past is ever-present. The busts of Rudolph Nureyev and Dame Margot Fonteyn always bring the sense of awe. Especially when I watch the ballets from the stage seats, next to the dancers running on and off the stage. Realizing that the movements, emotions, forms have be carried on through the years.

On Saturday, it was a triple-bill: two shorts – Birthday Offering to the music of Alexander Glazunov and A Month in the Country, music by Frederic Chopin — choreographed by Frederick Ashton, and a modernist piece Les Noces, music and words by Igor Stravinsky, choreographed by Bronislava Nijinska.

All three different but equally mesmerizing.

“Birthday Offering”

Birthday Offering:  incredibly demanding technically, stunning in its refined style, allowing seven ballerinas to demonstrate their individual personas in a series of solos, duets and ensemble. Some forty years ago one of those ballerinas was Fonteyn accompanied by Nureyev. Yesterday the great prima Tamara Rojo danced her last solo before leaving the company, her eyes in tears as she stood at the curtain call in front of a full house, the thundering ovations refusing to let go this amazing ballerina.

“A Month in the Country”

A Month in the Country demanded a different type of technique – acting. An adaptation of Turgenev’s play about love found and love lost with a distinctly Russian nostalgic flavor. Zenaida Yanowsky stole my heart in the role of a bored wife who falls for a much younger man. Her long, powerful and lyrical arms and legs, her facial expressions reminiscent of silent movie females, seemed to recite the poignant lines of Turgenev’s prose (one of my most beloved authors) as poetry.

“Les Noces”

And then came Les Noces. A bizarre, brilliant, piece that could have been a Wassily Kandinsky painting in progress. Purely Russian, transforming a wedding scene into a sacred ritual bending humans into geometrical shapes.  Building up the dynamics and synchronicity to the point where the audience feels as drunk as the characters on stage. Absolutely breathtaking! It could have been thought and constructed only by the Queen of Dance, Branislava Nijinska, the sister of Vaslav, and one of the five choreographers who worked for Sergei Diaghilev’s legendary Ballets Russes.

After the end of the show, as we spilled into the white night of summer London (well, maybe not as white as St. Petersburg’s nights) we joined a festive, hip, happy crowd of Londonders and visitors.  With music pouring out of inviting pubs, restaurants and clubs, sleep wasn’t an option.

Performance photos courtesy of the Royal Ballet. 

Interior photo of  the Royal Opera House by Ella Leya.

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