The current double bill by the Royal Ballet starts with Anemoi, a marvellous new creation choreographed by one of the company’s senior dancers, Valentino Zucchetti. The title refers to the Greek wind gods, each having a cardinal direction, and associated with various seasons and weather conditions. Zucchetti describes its subtext as the warm wind coming gradually in waves to blow away the shades of winter: “At the end we’re in the summer with its love and its passion; and the music is so warm and passionate.” His chosen music is by Rachmaninoff, using the second movements of his Symphonies 1 and 2, and a Romance. Rachmaninoff is so much to Zuchetti’s taste that he has further plans for this composer, even a full-length ballet. The designs by Jean-Marc Puissant are lit by Simon Bennison to represent the sun, constantly but slowly moving from one corner of the stage to the next.
Anemoi originally started life during lockdown and was meant for the Clore Studio, but was so admired that after a few tweaks it is now on the main stage. As Zucchetti says, “It’s a vehicle for young people, an opportunity for the audience to see the young company members.” These dancers were indeed wonderful and the choreography, with its sense of the effect the wind has on the world around it, fitted the music to perfection.
The second ballet of this double bill, The Cellist by Cathy Marston, is a moving tribute to Jacqueline du Pré. It gives choreographic form not only to the musician herself but her cello too. Du Pré’s marriage to the conductor Daniel Barenboim is part of the story, but the tragedy is that by the age of 28 multiple sclerosis began to steal her genius away.
In Marston’s imaginative choreography the instrument and instrumentalist become one, as in that remarkable poem by Yeats, “O body swayed to music, O brightening glance, How can we know the dancer from the dance?” The ballet shows her journey from childhood, when she first heard the cello on vinyl recordings, to her passion for playing the instrument and her later struggle with MS. The narrative thread is deliberately blurred in favour of capturing the two principal relationships: du Pré’s emotional affair with the cello and her physical affair with the conductor. The three principal performances, by Lauren Cuthbertson as Jacqueline, Matthew Ball as the Conductor, and Marcelino Sambé as the cello, were superb, well-complemented by Christina Arestis and Thomas Whitehead as du Pré’s parents, Ashley Dean as her sister and Ayla Orsborn as the young Jacqueline.
The music, arranged by Philip Feeney, weaves together extracts from Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Fauré, Mendelssohn, and of course Elgar, whose Cello Concerto du Pré performed so unforgettably. An excerpt from the Elgar forms a significant scene in this hour-long ballet, sensitively conducted by the Royal Ballet’s music director Koen Kessels. The solo cello was beautifully played by Hetty Snell, a member of the Royal Opera House orchestra.
I especially loved the poignant reappearance of Jacqueline’s childhood pullover in larger form towards the end, when she is beyond medical help. The ballet as a whole is a remarkable achievement by Cathy Marston, well deserving this revival after its first performance three and a half years ago.
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