Most helpful positive review
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A wonderful example of art concealing art -a mesmerising display of pure beauty
on 18 November 2013
This disc, recorded in 2013, is a fascinating selection of Ashton's work and illustrates very clearly what an influence he had in the creation of a British ballet concept. If the intention was to showcase a number of short self-contained ballets to demonstrate his range and versatility primarily through the combined talents of members of the current ballet company, it is has been a success.
The 15 minutes of brief interviews and comments on each of the features ballets and Frederick Ashton's legacy to British ballet make for an interesting snapshot summary. The points that come over most strongly and consistently are Ashton's focus on graceful action achieved through action above the legs. In other words he required dancers to use the whole body and not just focus on feet and legs. This had the effect of favouring shorter dancers in contrast to Ballanchine's leg focus which favoured taller dancers for example. The other point that was repeatedly made by all the interviewed dancers was that this made it more demanding and physically tiring than choreography devised by others. They all felt that it was also very fulfilling and rewarding as an experience.
The five featured short ballets make a satisfying program and nicely illustrate all these points. The disc opens with La Valse which is really the only ballet featured for the corps de ballet plus groups. Ravel's original idea for this music was to illustrate the increasing degeneration of the modern world and its eventual collapse. This is quite clearly portrayed in his music. Ashton's setting goes some way towards this conclusion without the finale being as extreme. There is emphasis, as always, on beautiful costuming and movement with artistic balance being maintained at all times even as it speeds up remorselessly. Closing the curtain at the same time as the music ends is the stage equivalent to a fade -out device on a pop record as it avoids the true ending as Ravel intended.
The following Meditation is a lovely example of poised beauty and line held seamlessly throughout by Leanne Benjamin and Vasko Vassilev. All the Ashton characteristics as described above are to the fore throughout. That is also true of the two Monotone ballets featuring two trios of dancers who have to work independently to achieve group unity. This is a very demanding requirement and is wonderfully done by Emma Maguire, Akane Takada., David Trzensimiech, Nehemiah Kish, Edward Watson and Marianela Nunez.
Voices of Spring is a delightful piece of highly artistic 'fluff' not surprisingly popular with young dancers especially. As mentioned in the interview, they then quickly discover its enormous challenges. These include the requirement of great strength and stamina for the numerous lifts from the male dancer, Alexander Campbell on this occasion, and artless femininity from the female dancer, on this disc apparently effortlessly achieved by Yuhui Choe.
The evening probably belonged to Tamaro Rojo though with her swan song as Marguerite, Traviata-like, doomed in her love with Armand, danced by Sergei Polunin. These two magically suspended disbelief throughout their tragic story and not a sound could be detected from a packed audience as the inevitable end approached. The increasingly ecstatic applause that erupted and constant rain of flowers that continued beyond the playing time of the disc did not hide the emotionally taxing effect on Rojo of, first the story, and then her own final curtain call. Carlos Accosta was also there to join in the applause on stage.
This disc therefore is largely a celebratory event. It celebrates Sir Frederick Ashton, his influence on the Royal Ballet and also includes a celebratory final role for Tamara Rojo. The chosen program is effective in these ways even if not everyone's first choice either of ballets or particular dancers. It is still a memorable disc.
The camera work displays both full stage and detailed shots that are sympathetic to Ashton's concepts. The orchestra is on top form under Emmanuel Plasson and one must also mention the fine piano playing of Robert Clark. The imaging is crisp and provides fabulously subtle colour range and the sound is presented in excellent DTD 5.0 as well as sa stereo option. The extras are as described in paragraph two.
I would suggest that this disc is likely to provide a great deal of enjoyment and satisfaction to admirers of Ashton, the Royal Ballet and its dancers including the ones highlighted in the course of this review which is based on the Blu-ray version in surround mode.
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Excellent Review, Ian!
Please check my Comment on Satish Kamath's Review of the Dutch Nutcracker - you are mentioned! (U.K. review)