Saturday, 21 November 2015

'Monotones I & II / Two Pigeons' at the Royal Opera House

Last week we went to see more ballet at the Royal Opera House, this time a couple of abstract, non-narrative works set to the wonderful music of Erik Satie - Monotones I & II - and 'Two Pigeons', a tale of love and loss and finding your love again. And there really are pigeons. Both were performed by the Royal Ballet. Sitting in the Amphitheatre gives you a spectacular, panoramic view totally unobstructed to drink in the sights in front of you, both in the orchestra and on the stage. My eyes stay on the stage.

It's always a delight to go into the wonderful Royal Opera House, with it's plush reds and golds, high ceilings and ultra-polite staff. Walking through the champagne bar and up the escalator to the Amphitheatre bar with it's dramatic views over the champagne bar on one side and out into the open-air balcony over-looking Covent Garden on the other. A Covent Garden now lit up with Christmas lights and a rampant reindeer at the entrance to the market. I'm quietly looking forward to seeing the Royal Opera House decked out in its Christmas finery in December, I bet it will look most fab.

'Monotones' are two short ballets danced back to back, the first featuring two men and one woman, and the second with two women and one man. Three dancers in each, the first three wearing light green costumes and the second wearing white. Dramatic movement and lighting means you never know what they'll do next, pulling dramatic shapes and then holding the pose. The gentle piano music of Erik Satie was a marvellous accompaniment to the two ballets. 'Monotone I' is danced to 'Trois Gnossiennes' and 'Monotone II' is danced to 'Trois Gymnopedies', both pieces very calming and restful as the dancers move and gyrate. I suspect most people reading this will have heard at least the main theme of 'Gymnopedies' but 'Gnossiennes' was new to me and I liked it.

The dancers in 'Monotone I' could probably have done with another few days of rehearsal, not always properly synchronised and a bit wobbly when on one leg, but it was lovely to watch. I preferred the perfection of 'Monotone II', opening with the ballerina standing on pointe on one leg with the other at 180 degrees straight up, being slowly turned by the two men dancers before lifting and moving her around the stage. It was a great to watch the elegance and poise of the dancers taking up the whole stage to the strains of Satie's lovely music.  Lots of clapping for the six dancers at the end.

After the interval it was time for the opening act of 'Two Pigeons', opening in the artist's garret in Paris while he tries to paint a fidgeting girl in a white tutu. He gives up and sulks while she tries to catch his attention and then some neighbours come a-calling to further prevent him working. And two pigeons fly across the window. Then appears a troupe of gypsies in colour clothes along with a gypsy girl who attracts his attention. He is captivated by her vitality and energetic dancing, so much more alive than the girl he was trying to paint, wild and brash, unafraid of life. The gypsies all leave and the artist grabs his cloak to follow, leaving the girl alone in the garret studio.

The second half moves the action to the gypsy camp and a wild party with energetic dancing from everyone as the artist and the girl's lover have a dance-off for her attentions. The artist loses both the dance-off and the girl. The final scene sees the artist walking down the steps to his garret where his former girl is still waiting for him. He has a pigeon on his shoulder and offers it to her before placing it on the back of a chair.  I thought it was a false pigeon since it was so still, and then it moved - a trained pigeon indeed. And then the second one flew across the stage to land beside the first on the back of the chair - what a lovely, magical surprise! And our two lovers are united again. Clap clap clap!

It was a lovely production, moving between wild and joyous to quiet and contemplative as the dancers tell their story. I liked Iana Salenko as the girl and Steven McRae as the artist and saw both of them dancing as Romeo and Juliet a few weeks ago, making a nice pairing again. I also liked Fumi Kaneko who danced up a storm as the gypsy girl. I also liked the pigeons that provided a wonderful surprise - how do you train a pigeon? The final scene was lovely to see, the artist and his love together with the two pigeons of the title. More clap clap clapping.

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