A Serenade to the delights of true harmony
IDOUBT if there is a more exquisite opening tableau in contemporary classical ballet than that of Balanchine’s Serenade. Seventeen female dancers, all clad in powdery blue, stand in diagonal lines, one arm extended upwards as if warding off a bright light. They suggest a group of moonbeams waiting for a chance to shine.
And once Tchaikovsky’s Serenade galvanises them into movement, shine is what they do. Created by Balanchine out of class work at the School of American Ballet, it includes elements of accident and chance – a girl falling over, the late arrival of a few male dancers – evolving into a genuine ensemble piece.
Here it works beautifully, with the lines and formations of the corps in perfect harmony.
Above all, this is a celebration of the female mystique, a dance to the joys of sisterhood. At times, the women almost skip across the stage.
When three women unpin their hair it is a shock, although more demure here than when I saw it performed by the New York City Ballet, who added a more raunchy element.
But the ethereal, enigmatic beauty of the piece is intact. The moonbeams shine bright.
Like Balanchine, Michael Corder understands the value of myth. His lyrical ballet, L’Invitation Au Voyage, is studded with exotic imagery that seems to combine elements of the Far East with romantic classical tradition.
A meditation on the rise and decline of love, it wears its complexity lightly, held together by an on-stage singer (Harriet Williams), who weaves in and out of the physical action, effortlessly conveying the songs of Henri Duparc.
From the intoxication of first love beautifully evoked by Sergei Polunin and the impossibly pretty Marianela Nunez to the dark, violent manoeuvres of the concluding sequences, played under a coppery-red sky, there is a notable muscularity on display.
Corder is particularly adept at creating virile movement for male dancers, expressing sinewy strength through a series of lifts and little knotted dramas played out in groups of two and three.
Finally, Balanchine’s cheerful tribute to the grand Russian manner, Theme And Variations, is played with sparkling fizz and balletic bling against the talismanic opulence of a Russian ballroom, complete with chandeliers and glittering blue drapes.
A beguiling ballet, stuffed with great structures and hurtling lines, it is a glorious, glitzy romp. The Russians may play it faster, but not much.
LYRICAL: Marianela Nunez and Sergei Polunin in Corder’s L’Invitation Au Voyage