Athough his work might not be everybody's favourite, Jiri Kylian remains one of the most eminent and significant figures of European modern ballet. His formulae, which have mesmerised international audience since the late Seventies with their unique mixture of classical and modern solutions, still play a vital role in the development and shaping of a distinctively
European choreographic movement. Indeed, European culture, traditions and themes informed many of Kylidn's early works such as Sinfonietta (1978), one of his best-known creations.
Despite being 25 years old, Sinfonietta, set to music by Janacek, remains a compendium of the choreographer's most distinctive creative and artistic traits. No other Kylitin work displays so clearly the way in which the Czech choreographer matches musical scores with seemingly continuous danced action that never indulges in trite virtuosity or predictable theatrical imagery. And no other work by the same dancemaker shows so clearly Kylidn's unparalleled genius in making a small number of dancers use and fill the theatrical space with a relatively simple series of movements that convey Janacek's uplifting and engaging music.
No better choice could have been made for the already rich repertoire of the Royal Ballet. Particularly at a time when the company seems to be in excellent shape and thus ready to tackle a work that requires perfection. Artists of the calibre of Zenaida Zanowsky, Ivan Putrov and, above all, a superbly dramatic and technically incandescent Marianela Nunez looked completely at ease with the stylistic demands of the work and it is not surprising that they were greeted with thunderous ovation at the end of the evening.
Indeed, the whole triple bill was a good one, for it showed the company at its best. The preservation of the so-called Ashton style, as well as the splendidly varied choreographic legacy he left to the world in general and to the Royal Ballet in particular, has often led to an outburst of criticism directed at the various restagings, deemed to be but pale imitations of the original work. It is inevitable that a cast led by fairly new recruits who have not grown up in the pure Ashton tradition — and not even with what was left of it in the years that followed the choreographer's death — expose themselves to the often obnoxious comments of those who 'remember' or 'know'.
Some found that rising star Alina Cojocaru was missing depth in Frederick Ashton's Scenes de Ballet (1948) and that her slightly coquettish approach to the ballerina role was out of place. I agree, but only in part. I think Ashton would have adored Cojocaru, for she embodies the modernday equivalent of that ballerina/diva ideal he was always seeking in his interpreters. Her dancing is flawless and she has great charisma. Indeed, she can be coquettish, and she was coquettish, particularly in the central solo. Yet, she was coquettish as only a great artist can be, without ever slipping into a cheap watch-me-now mode. Her approach, therefore, was not wrong. It was simply a personal reading of the part, and an interesting personal reading that offered an alternative to what might otherwise risk becoming a stale repetition of an allegedly standard way to deal with that role. Next to her Johann Kobborg was interesting to watch, although he did not look exactly attuned to the refined aesthetic of the dance.
Squeezed in between the Ashton and the Kylian, MacMillan's Winter Dreams (1991) is an ideal complement to the other two ballets; on the one hand it contrasts the refined neo-classicism of Scenes de Ballet with its subtle and beautifully understated dramatic feel, while, on the other, it prepares the audience for the neo-impressionist content of Sinfonietta with its rarefied narrative solutions, which hint at the story of Chekhov's Three Sisters. As with the other two ballets, the cast of Winter Dreams was a strong one, with many from the original production. Darcey Busse11's Masha has inevitably matured since the day she created that role, and the more mature approach bestows fascinating new shadings on to the part, rendering it more vibrant. Tamara Rojo, as Irina, the role created originally for Durante, danced beautifully, even though she could work more on the flirtatious side of the part; Inaki Urlezaga, as Vershinin, is an ideal heir to Irek Mukharriedov — the original interpreter. Among the others, Sabdra Conley was an outstanding Anfisa, Genesia Rosato a bitter Natasha, and Anthony Dowell a truly moving Kulygin.