It’s been seven months since The Royal Ballet could dance together for an audience. At its best, this homecoming gala caught the joy and connection of live performance. The invited, socially distanced audience of students and health workers was small in number, but produced a roar of applause that sounded startlingly like a full house.
The show was streamed live and is available for another month – though many users reported technical problems on the night. Between numbers, presenter Anita Rani provided links from the stage, with more gush than insight. It’s touching to see the care taken to make the auditorium safe, with the whole stalls area given over to the widely spaced orchestra, handsomely conducted by Jonathan Lo. Rehearsals were socially distanced, with testing for dancers in physical contact.
It puts a new light on some ballets. The wide-spaced lines of Hofesh Shechter’s Untouchable look suddenly practical. The best moment in Cathy Marston’s new In Our Wishes comes when Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke reach for each other, hands hesitating and circling before they finally touch.
But ballet needs contact, and its physical abandon now seems even more powerful. Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball soared through Kenneth MacMillan’s rare Carousel duet, ardent and free.
Highlighting the company’s range, from classics to the present day, this programme made some odd choices. Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour was danced with bold energy, but lacks character. Even ballerina Natalia Osipova can’t stop Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Medusa looking aimless.
There were knockouts, too. Anna Rose O’Sullivan and Marcelino Sambé flood the stage with sunlit happiness in a duet from Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée, a gorgeous blend of exuberance and pin-sharp detail. Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov turn the Don Quixote pas de deux, that gala warhorse, into something personal and playful. The much-loved Edward Watson, who announced his retirement this year, danced an anguished excerpt from Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works.
Excerpts from Ashton’s The Dream brought two different Oberons. William Bracewell danced the Scherzo with windblown lightness. In the duet, Alexander Campbell and Laura Morera showed crisp musical precision, but needed more chemistry.
The finale was MacMillan’s ragtime ballet Elite Syncopations. To get the entire company on stage, while keeping them safe, the cast was both doubled and distanced. Only ten couples could actually touch; the others were spaced out, as if dancing with imaginary partners. But the legs swing high and wide, or everybody dips into the same rhythm, and your eye fills in the gaps. What you see is a party.