Our House To Your House

Amanda Jennings reviews the Royal Opera House's final live #OurHouseToYourHouse of the season

The third performance in the Royal Opera House’s trio of live streamings brought us the comparative luxury of two pas de deux among the beautifully-performed choral and orchestral pieces. Dancers have, of course, been even more constrained than other artists during the lockdown; trying to keep in shape in one’s kitchen or living room, unable to practise grand allegro or overhead lifts, hardly prepares any dancer to go on stage and dance a pas de deux. Interviewed at the beginning of the stream, Kevin O’Hare explained that, because access to the Royal Ballet storerooms could not be allowed, the dancers would be wearing practice clothes, so they could not even rely on the boost of costume for motivation or inspiration. In spite of everything, the two couples gave outstanding performances, which, in light of the prowess of all four individuals, was not surprising.

I have remarked more and more frequently recently that Mayara Magri has true ballerina potential; her account of Swanhilda earlier this year capped a succession of soloist and principal roles in which she has shone. Her strength and insightful technique enable her to make the most of her interpretive abilities, and she uses her whole body, especially her marvellously flexible upper back, to convey emotion and tell a story. Neither she nor her partner (in both life and art) Matthew Ball had danced the pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon’s Within the Golden Hour previously; they were coached in the studio by Christopher Saunders, with Wheeldon casting a distanced eye over their work via digital media.

Wheeldon’s work over the years has not always been consistent, but it has always been clever, theatrical and engaging. Many of his pieces will live long in the repertoire, and Within the Golden Hour is among his most successful non-narrative work. The pas de deux is lyrical and very physical, with muscular intertwining and lifts, and to watch Magri and Ball one would have assumed that they had performed it regularly with hours of coaching, so flawlessly was it danced here.

Ball’s natural instinct for matching and enhancing his partner’s lines is always admired by audiences, and his powerful strength enables lifts to be performed seamlessly and seemingly with ease.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto contains some of his most breathtaking non-narrative choreography; here is a ballet where all the elements - music, mise-en-scene and exquisite steps - create an immersive world the audience can inhabit alongside the dancers. The second movement of Shostakovich’s emotional Piano Concerto No. 2 never fails to stir the heart; the opening section, with greatly reduced orchestral support for the pianistic skills of Kate Shipway, suffered slightly here from the loss of the lushness of a full string section, but beggars certainly cannot be choosers and it was a matter for gratitude to hear this great work performed live, even in a reduced context. The choreography itself is pure MacMillan at his finest; in the main it is a work about shape, and as one glorious picture succeeds another we marvel each time at his ingenuity. The little motif where the girl is lifted just enough off the floor to move from one fourth position in croisé to the other is simplicity itself; enhanced by a sincere feel for épaulement and elegance such as that always shown by Fumi Kaneko, it becomes something gleamingly special. Reece Clarke, so handsome, so elegant and strong, is superb in this piece, and Kaneko’s lovely face and shapely feet and legs are a joy to watch. A very musical dancer, she has a natural instinct for dynamics; highlighting them too brilliantly here occasionally causes a tiny loss of fluidity, but this very minor flaw will be easily ironed out with proper rehearsal time and space.

Ball is, of course, already a principal dancer; Clarke, Magri and Kaneko would all have been strong candidates for promotion in normal circumstances. As we move tentatively along the pathway back to full performances, I, for one, will be following all of them as they progress closer and closer to the most senior rank.