On Tuesday I gave myself a little treat, you could call it an early Valentines present from me to me. I went to the Royal Opera House for the Ashton Programme. It is such an exciting thing to go to the ballet (or any other theatre venue) on your own. I find it quite relaxing, being alone but surrounded by people at the same time. Walking through the crowds feeling somehow incredibly lucky to be there in those marvellous rooms, heavily decorated in gold and burgundy. Getting ready to go is always a bit of a ritual: choosing the clothes, hair, make up (although I always feel underdressed). And despite the ridiculous amounts of poshness in the room, the overpriced everything and the snobs that look you up and down, I still feel pretty special walking down the corridors where ballet history was made.
The first performance was La Valse, a romantic reminiscence of a 19th century Imperial Vienna where Balls were celebrate constantly. The stage appears dark and smoky after the curtain rises. Gradually, we begin to see couples of dancers, slowly turning. The movements become quicker and bigger and suddenly, a semi opaque curtain is lifted and the colours on the puffed, 50s silhouette skirts suddenly pop and seem brighter. The stage is filled with dancers in tailcoats and ball gowns who whirl and dance under golden chandeliers. The swooping waltz melodies become faster and frantic, overwhelming and intense, reaching a cenit as the curtain starts to close.
My second favourite was Meditation from Thaïs, a short but intensely exotic pas de deux with music from the opera Thaïs. The story of a courtesan and the priest who tries to convince her to join the spiritual life. Ashton saw a love relationship from the beginning and choreographed the piece accordingly. The ethereal and romantic music of Jules Massenet complements Ashton's ardent love duet. The first costumes were designed by Anthony Dowell.
And the last and my clear favourite was Margarite and Armand. I was already going with high expectations just because Tamara Rojo was performing the main role. She is such a versatile, technically perfect and with a passion and theatricality rarely seen on a classical dancer. The set design alone was sublime. Whites and greys filled the stage with elegant white drapes hanging from the ceiling. A metal structure contrasting against the fair background and representing the "cage" in which Margarite is socially a prisioner. A simple green velvet divan stage left, which is a simple object but carries a lot of the action throughout the ballet. Marguerite's costume is always a tight fitting dress with a full skirt to emphasize her movements and sensuality. The colors are very primal: from black and white on the ball scene to white at the park to bright red (representing love and passion) to then come back to light grey/white for the final scene.
The narrative for the ballet was taken from the play Le Dame aux Camelias written by Dumas. A burning love between Margarite and Armand which is threatened by social conventions and the "cage" in which Marguerite lives. The choreography draws the tragic essence of the play, expressing the consuming desire of the lovers through increasingly free movements and created for Margot Fonteyn and Nureyev to show their unique partnership.There are points when you forget you are watching ballet and engage so fully in the story that you begin to appreciate what is happening in front of you as a "real" scene rather than a choreographed series of movements. Tamara Rojo gives every port de bras, turn and lift a new meaning and infuses such emotion into it that you can literally "feel" what she is feeling. The audience was in complete silence, mesmerized; you could hear the gasps from the two performers as the tragic ending approached and I couldn't help holding my breath as Marguerite holds her lover one last time.
Ashton's Programme is on at the Royal Opera House on the 15th, 21st and 23rd of February