Stravinsky’s Apollo was choreographed by George Balanchine in 1928 and is now his oldest extant ballet. It still has the power to enthral, so who knows just how revolutionary it would have felt when it was first performed? This said, being created not long after Balanchine left the Soviet Union, the work is clearly grounded in the Russian tradition, but it pushes established concepts several steps further. So as the figure of Apollo rotates his arm through 360 degrees at breakneck speed, the movements initially appear anything but classical. They do not, however, lack the fundamental rhythmic qualities of classical ballet. They are simply much quicker.
The ballet describes the birth of Apollo, and, unlike in many performances, the first scene where he comes out of Leto and breaks free from his ‘cocoon’ is included. In Carlos Acosta’s masterful portrayal, Apollo could be as much a modern man staring into an uncertain future as he is an ancient god, his limbs outstretched as if pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge one moment, his body hunched up defensively the next. Olivia Cowley, Itziar Mendizabal and especially Marianela Nuñez also provide outstanding performances as the three Muses.
Alexei Ratmansky’s new work, 24 Preludes, is set to Chopin’s music and, over a sequence of short dances totalling around forty minutes, sees eight performers convey a wide range of emotions. If initially it feels as if we are witnessing expression in the absence of purpose, this notion is soon dispelled as repeatedly watching the same dancers enables us to appreciate their characters and see the ‘mini plot’ in each dance, even though the work remains predominantly abstract. This could well be a ballet about the act of choreographing a ballet since the ‘drama’ includes dancers making their differences known, while many of the steps prove highly innovative. There is also an element of humour, and with some dances lasting just thirty seconds, vibrant flurries of activity can be followed by a snappy exit from the stage. Some poses seem reminiscent of Apollo, while other steps are as likely to remind you of the manner of Morecambe and Wise's departure after singing 'Bring Me Sunshine' each week.
The other work enjoying its world premiere is Christopher Wheeldon’s Aeternum, set to Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem. This meditation on war and redemption possesses a primal quality that seems reminiscent of The Rite of Spring, and contrasts spiky, dynamic movements with the most tender and mesmerising of pas de deuxs, courtesy of Marianela Nuñez and Federico Bonelli. James Hay also provides an excellent solo turn, while momentary blackouts are used to move dancers from one position to another with great effect. On opening night the audience applauded wildly, which was hardly surprising since they had just witnessed three ballets, and three undoubted hits.
Until 14 March (5 performances) at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London WC2E 9DD. Casts vary over the run. For further details and tickets visit the Royal Opera House website.
Photo: Carlos Acosta as Apollo in George Balanchine’s twentieth century classic, © Bill Cooper.