Royal Ballet - The Dream & Song of the Earth

I decided to purchase a ticket for Royal Ballet's return to NY after a decade.  Since I had never seen any version of "The Dream", that was the performance I purchased.  It was a double bill including Song of the Earth.

There was certainly lot of company spirit on display with plenty of verve and finesse.  The Corps was especially on cue and in character.  The only caveat I had was that their pointe shoes caused a lot of noise, sometimes covering the music.  Even their bourrees made the stage reverberate.  I tried to determine if the problem was their shoes, the choreography or the theater stage.  It seemed to me to be a combination of all three.  Balanchine had the theater designed to accommodate dance, so there is a lot pliable give to the stage flooring.  I don't think the RB dancers were used to this and used a bit too much force in their petit allegro work.  It makes me wonder if their home stage is a bit harder and unforgiving requiring more energy to dance Ashton's choreography.  The choreography itself is filled with quick jumps interspersed with big show stopping leaps, especially for the dancers who play elves.  The human characters have more legato movements.  However I don't think a lot of jumping by dancers should have caused that much noise.  So hard shoes were definitely a factor.  This problem was only relegated to the Corps.  The soloists and principals shoes were virtually silent.

The standout dancer was Steven McRae.  Which is no surprise, the ballet was built around his character Oberon and gave him the majority of the choreography.  McRae was a great actor and had good chemistry with both Sarah Lamb who danced Titania and James Hay who danced Puck.  I was extremely impressed with the enormous amount of control McRae had over his body.  Especially when he would perform triple pirouettes then open out elegantly into a deep arabesque penchee.  He had about 4 of these in one of his solos and he performed all of them perfectly with nary a wobble.  He danced this and many other gravity defying steps with so much elegance and calm that I don't think the audience realized just how much legendary dancing he was offering to them.  There are other examples on Youtube of the ballet.  But most other dancers play up the humor aspect in the character.  However McRae eschewed that route and played the straight man to James Hay's Puck.  This meant that the humor was more centered on Oberon's self satisfied, dour and imperious nature.  He also added a bit of angularity to his movements which turned him not into someone ethereal but rather odd and alien.  It was an arresting technique.  At one point, during a set of extremely fast pirouettes and chaines, McRae's chiffon cape became entangled with his crown.  It seemed he was suddenly wearing a veil of some kind.  I wondered if he would just ignore it.  But without breaking character or calling too much attention to his action, he firmly pulled the offending piece of costume out of his head wear.  It impressed me.  But I'm a goofball in general so something like that would strike me.

As one of the only funny man in the elven character set, James Hay was allowed to let loose with his most over the top acting as Puck.  I liked that he had an almost animalistic style in his dancing.  He was all raw energy.  Which meshed really well with the calmness displayed by McRae. Sarah Lamb was pure grace as Titania.  She was also comfortable enough to stay out of Bennet Gartside's way and let him steal the show as Bottom.  The character of Bottom is one of the most magical.  Gartside was required to dance in pointe shoes to mimic hooves.  He performed all the iconic donkey movements with such humor and innocence that he made the whole audience smile.

The set and costumes were gorgeous.  Although the greenness of everything made everyone a bit hard to see at times.  But this was a fantastic production and I was glad to have a chance to watch it and see McRae at the peak of his dancing power.

During intermission I noticed a great many audience members leaving.

Then I discovered why.

Song of the Earth is a real buzz killer.  And I can understand why RB jammed it into a double bill with The Dream.  Because no one would voluntarily see it otherwise.  But this isn't because it is bad or contains bad choreography or dancing.  It is a dance poem on mortality and a rather hard experience on the audience.

Although the program states that RB sees this ballet as one of its most iconic, the RB dancers seemed a bit lost in it. Some weren't comfortable with the style and at one point a corps member stumbled out of demi-pointe bourres.  They all looked worse when compared with Carlos Acosta.  Acosta had a definite handle on the style of the choreography, the acting and the story.  He was able to synthesize all these ideas into his role as Death.  I just wished he was able to give his insights to the rest of the company.  Many times, it seemed as if he was in a different ballet to the rest.  He had wonderful stage presence.

Many of the leads were good but just not at Acosta's level.  Yahui Choe looked beautiful in the Third Song.  Nehemiah Kish was very affecting in the Fifth Song.  The ballet had very beautiful set pieces but the general theme (We are all gonna die!) was very hard to handle after The Dream.  I can understand now why some audience members left before the intermission.

It was a great night at the ballet with Royal Ballet.  I hope they don't remain such strangers to New York.  We need them here.  We need more of Steven McRae's dancing!

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