Royal Opera House (April 21st 2003, matinée and evening performances)
In respect of Natalia Makarova’s new "Beauty" for the Royal, several hundred printed and Internet pages are already before the eyes of readers worldwide, so I shall be brief. The question to someone like this writer, who has not seen a "Beauty" at the Royal since 1986 (!), is: irregardless of past history, does this production work, as theatre ? To which I would say, in a nutshell, NO.
All is not bad: Miss Makarova and her team have effected a great change in the corps de ballet, or rather in its feminine side, as the men seemed to be in hiding throughout (I’m beginning to understand why someone has gone and done an all-male Swan Lake). "Royal Ballet clod-hopping", that ghastly shuffling footwork, was gone, lines were neatly drawn, the upper body defined. Fine.
Now let us find something else positive to say. Not easy ! Miss Makarova’s idea (ideal ?) of the ballet, is, like Balanchine, Woman. It is all very well to speak of bringing something up to date, but to put on a cast of, so to speak, several thousand women and two men, does strike one as a little dated. Oh-so feminine and fussy, from the first Spinatelli drop curtain, covered in blousy old roses, to that twee business with boy Cupid, of which the less said, the better.
No force, no fire. At the end of the day, this production cloys like an over-large quivering blancmange.
One’s major frustration is how Miss Makarova deals with the score, one of the finest ever written for the ballet. In the Prologue, a distinctly adult and masculine passage in the music, that cries out for WEIGHT from the corps de ballet - we are served up tiny children prancing about in a galop. At every point the music demands attack, vigour, Miss Makarova has reined in her dancers, or put children to dance where we could finally have got something for the men to do, and so it goes.
Thus, Catalabutte should mime and mince. We do not want him doing pas de bourrée, twiddling away beat on beat. That detracts from the music, draws away its force. Then, as Act I opens, the peasant girls with the spindle should NOT be dancing, when what is wanted, is a dumb show. But they skip and hop about, leaving the public yawning by the time the King roars "Off with their Heads" ! Neither should Carabosse bolt about frenetically, jeté jeté jeté. Carabosse must mime, or he will be futile. Makarova’s Carabosse is futile.
So frivolous an approach to music shews up again in the way Miss Makarova has coached her étoiles. How has she allowed Alina Cojocaru to get away with throwing up the leg like that ? Admire as I do the young lady, it was drudgery to watch her wreck all musical irony, all phrasing, with the thwack of that baseball bat onto the ear. One pined for the lovely Elisabeth Maurin, as Miss Cojocaru shewed us one boring arabesque - too high, and one boring arabesque penché - 180 degrees.
How does one phrase the music ? With one’s eyes, one’s facial muscles, one’s épaulement, one’s hands. Pick up the leg, and and it’s gone.
Dramatically, one finds little to say of Miss Cojocaru’s childlike portrayal (in a girl of 21, hardly surprising), enjoy as one did her mastery of the connecting step, that being one technical aspect our own étoile Laetitia Pujol might want to ponder. Rather than Miss Cojocaru, who is simply not ready for the part, one cannot but feel that were it not for Zenaida Yanowsky’s great height, which has no doubt hindered her career, this most refined and intriguing artistic personality (seen at the matinée as Carabosse and in the evening, as the Lilac Fairy), would be an ideal Aurora.
As Prince Désiré, Mr. Putrov’s actual dancing, if one cares to disregard a lack of épaulement, was admirable, although his partnering at this stage, is still somewhat autistic. Again, neither Mr. Putrov, nor Mr. Soares, who danced Désiré at the evening’s performance, are ready for the part, one for which "external merits" i.e. beauty and presence, do not suffice.
At the evening performance, despite the high extensions, and a clumsy Prince Désiré, Tamara Rojo was on an altogether different level as Aurora. One of the loveliest-looking women imaginable, Miss Rojo’s delightful characterisation would deserve both a stronger Prince, and, above all, a production with some blood and guts.
Amongst the fairies, the laurel wreath goes to the aptly-named Laura Morera, for brilliant footwork, ballon, and command of the stage, although one’s eye was drawn to Sian Murphy and Bethany Keating as well.
The rest of the fairies were fairly undistinguished. Should not these variations, as well as Florine and the Bluebird, be carried off at the level of étoile or premier danseur ? (although the greatest Bluebird in my forty or so years’ recollection, is far and away the POB’s Emmanuel Thibault, but just for once, I shall generously refrain from expounding my views as to the absurd treatment meted out here to the latter gentleman). This was emphatically not so at the two performances I saw, where Miss Morera alone really cut the mustard. Might someone be so kind as to explain why, at the moment, a principal would no doubt be brusqued, were he or she asked to take on these dances, dances that are, at the end of the day, intended to be standard-setting for the company ? Had the likes of Miyako Yoshida been in the front line of battle, the whole thing might have looked rather less LIMP.
Footnote to the Prince Désirés of yesteryear: Patrice Bart’s biography has been reprinted on the occasion of the première, this week at Paris, of his new ballet, La Petite Danseuse. As those who saw him on stage in his heyday will recall, M. Bart was, though oustanding as a dancer, short and very stocky. But, all those eons ago, because the man could DANCE, he was put to every role in the repertoire, including Siegfried, Albrecht, and of course, Désiré, now the exclusive province of the six-foot bathing beauty. Standards have become so, um, "elastic", that we may soon find Leonardo di Caprio pressed into service in white satin, a little coronet on his goldilocks....