Britten Dances, Snape Maltings Concert Hall, June 20 2013

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Celebration of Benjamin Britten’s centenary continued at Snape Maltings with a programme of dance to Britten compositions, given by two of the world’s finest ballet companies, the Royal Ballet of Flanders and our own Royal Ballet, rarely seen in the UK outside of London.

A sunny, playful piece to begin with, If Memory Serves, choreographed for the Flanders company by Ashley Page to Britten’s Young Apollo. A ballet in-joke turns the tables on the Stravinsky Apollo – instead of the young god disporting himself with his three female muses, a goddess, the lithe and joyful Laura Hidalgo, cavorts with three bounding young men. From light to shade with Page’s second piece, Courting the Senses to Britten’s arrangement of a Purcell piece, as a couple in dark 18th Century garb embark on a passionate, dangerous liaison.

The centre-piece of the programme, the last given by the Royal Ballet of Flanders, was Cameron McMillan’s Dream Weaver, to Larry Groves’ Nocturnal and Diversions, after Britten’s own arrangement of a John Dowland composition. It had its effective moments, especially the opening, with its six sleeping couples, dressed in muted blues and greys, roused to dance in turn, and which reminded me of a William Blake watercolour. The final duet for a brightly lit couple was outstanding too but I felt that some of the central sections, with perhaps too much reliance on repeated physical contortions, were less successful.

The final ballet, from the Royal Ballet, was a world premiere – Kim Brandstrup’s Ceremony of Innocence to Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge. The title is derived from a line in a WB Yeats’ poem. This was a beautifully conceived piece with stunningly magical designs from Leo Warner (video) and Jordan Tuinman (lighting). There is a narrative of sorts. An older couple, Edward Watson and Mara Galeazzi, appear to mourn the loss or absence of younger man – a child, maybe, or simply the embodiment of a lost innocence. The whole piece is pervaded by a shadowy nostalgia – with a chorus of two couples interwoven in the action, ghosts of a happier past. The central couple dance together consolingly and sometimes the youth appears to them – at one point a beam of light dissects the stage, separating the young man who, shrouded in darkness, mirrors the older one. Then the light crosses the stage, banishing the darkness, as if the sun has emerged from behind a cloud – just one of number of wonderful images achieved by the design team.

The dancing here was top notch throughout, although the stand-out performance for me was from Marcelino Sambé, who only joined the company from the Royal Ballet School last year, as the youth figure. This young man surely has a bright future ahead of him.

No bouquets were presented on stage, but a figurative one for Mara Galeazzi, who retires from the Royal Ballet this year. Plaudits, too, for guitarist Tom McKinney (in the Dowland piece) and for the Britten Sinfonia who played magnificently throughout the evening, under the secure batons of Benjamin Pope and Barry Wordsworth.

James Hayward

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