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Ashton Celebration [Artists of the Royal Ballet, Emmanuel Plasson] [Opus Arte: OABD7128D] [Blu-ray] 
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Frederick Ashton, Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, was one of the 20th century's most influential choreographers, whose musical, subtle and graceful style and extraordinary gift for storytelling had a profound impact on the development of
British ballet. This special programme, performed at the Royal Opera House to mark the 25th anniversary of Ashton's death, presents five works that demonstrate his astonishing versatility, from compelling abstract ballets – such as the exuberant Voices of Spring and the radically modernist Monotones – to the tragic love story Marguerite and Armand, brought to life with ‘performances of heart-wrenching intensity’ (The Observer)
by Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin.
Ravel: La Valse
Massenet: Meditation from “Thaïs”
Satie: Monotones I & II
Johann Strauss II: Voices of Spring
Liszt: Marguerite and Armand
"... a performance of such dramatic intensity that the audience sat in silence, as if afraid to breathe. Ashton turned the story of the tubercular courtesan Marguerite into a one-act ballet, set to Liszt, designed by Cecil Beaton, to show off the partnership of Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev; its headlong rush from first love to deathbed reconciliation requires dancers of similar charisma.
In Polunin and Rojo it has them. Polunin's talent doesn’t just lie in the elegance of his arabesques, the speed of his pirouettes, or the height of his jump - all of which are fully displayed here - but in the way he can make you believe he is living the part he plays.
Here he traces Armand's story with spellbinding clarity: his stillness when he first sees Marguerite, the ferocity of his public renunciation of her, the tenderness of his love - each step has meaning. His passion is more than matched by Rojo, whose emotions are not only etched on her face, but in every muscle of her expressive body. She is simply wonderful.
Their magnificent performances brought to a close a bill which revealed the variety of the Royal's founder choreographer from the perfumed sway of La Valse, to the lyrical loveliness of the Thais pas de deux, and the audacious joy of Voices of Spring. Monotones I and II, on the other hand, show his geometric modernism and his ability to conjure a kind of mysterious beauty by the simplest of means... the performances throughout the evening made the choreography look as fresh and important as ever." (The Daily Telegraph)
"... performances of heart-wrenching intensity ...Polunin stalks the stage like a panther, his every breath and gesture a cry of longing for Rojo's ailing, consumptive Marguerite ... and while his dancing is faultless, it's the other things that you remember. His burning gaze. The ferocious tenderness of his touch. The terrible desperation with which he buries his face in her neck ... Rojo has never been more incandescently beautiful, nor more vulnerable.
" (The Guardian)
CastLeanne Benjamin (Meditation)Valeri Hristov (Meditation) Yuhui Choe (Voices of Spring)Alexander Campbell (Voices of Spring)Edward Watson (Monotones II)Tamara Rojo (Marguerite and Armand)Sergei Polunin (Marguerite and Armand)
Orchestra of the Royal Opera House; Emmanuel PlassonTelevision Director: Margaret WilliamsChoreographer: Frederick Ashton
Catalogue Number: OABD7128DDate of Performance: 2013Running Time: 84 minutesAspect Ratio: 16:9Label: Opus Arte
Worth seeing for stars including Tamara Rojo. Performance **** Picture and Sound **** --BBC Music Magazine, Christmas 2013 --This text refers to the DVD edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
I personally find the quality and interest to be as mixed as the styles of the works. First up is La Valse, a corps de ballet piece to Ravel's music. I love it!
Then follow two of Ashton's best known gala pieces, the Meditation from Thais and Voices of Spring. These two pas de deux are very nicely performed by three first soloists and one principal, but suffer by comparison with the versions on the other recently released DVD of Asthon's work where they are performed by experienced principal couples.
Then comes Monotones I and II. My feeling about these abstract pieces is that here is the master choreographer showing every one else how to do it. The performances, by a mixture of up and coming soloists and established principals are splendid: I could sit and watch this all day.
Lastly comes Marguerite and Armand, Rojo's farewell with guest artist Sergei Polunin. Although there are some stunning moments, I wasn't convinced by this piece. The narrative doesn't make sense unless you know the story, though I suppose many people do so perhaps that isn't a big problem. But there's something lacking. I think Ashton didn't want any one except Fonteyn and Nureyev to perform this work because he thought no one else would have the chemistry to carry it. Sadly, I think he was right.
Although being there 1st, then the live streaming 2nd would have been best options, I am still gratified that I was able to buy and watch this DVD retrospectively.
Other enjoyable performances were from Leanne Benjamin and Yuhui Choi. I thought Monotones is well tiltled, although the presence of Marianela Nunez, as always made it worthwhile.
With great choreography and musical entries by, Ravel, Massenet and Strauss, one couldn't ask for much more.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Stunning final performance forTamara Rojo with the Royal Ballet is reason alone to buy this DVD. Rojo was made for the role of Marguerite.Published 1 month ago by J. Simon
Beautiful Royal Ballet program about the genius of Ashton. I suggest to all loves art-ballet.Published 19 months ago by Carlo Mauro
I actually saw this programme at the Royal Opera House and I am delighted to see it again on this DVD. Excellent.Published on 11 Nov. 2013 by Amazon Customer