Les Patineurs / Tales of Beatrix Potter @ Royal Opera House, London

performed by
Tara-Brigitte Bhavnani, Olivia Cowley, Celisa Diuana, Kristen McNally, Ryoichi Hirano, Kenta Kura, Ernst Meisner, Andrej Uspenski, Yuhui Choe, Laura Morera, Steven McRae, Sarah Lamb, Rupert Pennefather, Cindy Jourdain, Laura McCulloch, Ricardo Cevera, Bethany Keating, Leanne Cope, Emma Maguire, Fernando Montano, Michael Stojko, Jonathan Howells, Samantha Raine, Gary Avis, Bennet Gartside, Francesca Filpi, Sian Murphy, Jonathan Watkins, James Wilkie, Eric Underwood, Ludovic Ondiviela, Iohna Loots, Johannes Stepanek, Paul Kay, Gemma Pitchley-Gale, Elizabeth Harrod, Romany Pajdak, Sabina Westcombe. This December, alongside The Nutcracker, the Royal Ballet is presenting a second festive treat in the form of two ballets choreographed by the peerless Frederick Ashton.

The first, Les Patineurs, is far more playful than any other ballet that Ashton choreographed in 1937 – it depicts a series of ice skaters over ten short scenes.

The staging remains true to the original number of dancers stipulated, allowing us to witness the near fusion of ballet and skating, as four pairs of dancers imitate the motions of an ice skater, one foot hopping on the ground as the other trails behind at a diagonal in the air.

Against a backdrop of lanterns hanging from woodland trees, William Chappells costumes of red, blue and brown appear to gleam in the winters day sun, itself the product of John B. Reads intelligently designed lighting.
Soloist Steven McRae jumps, leaps and spins with a mind-boggling speed and agility, appearing almost like an Olympic ice skater. Other playful, though highly skilful, turns come from Sarah Lamb and Rupert Pennefather as he turns her upside, her limbs splaying in all directions; from Cindy Jourdain and Laura McCulloch as they fall and land in a choreographed heap, and from the entire ensemble as they form a line to dance a conga off the stage.

Even more incredible are the turns of Yuhui Choe and Laura Morera as they dance on points on the ice, one delivering a superb set of fouett turns, the other spinning wildly as her arms are thrown frantically into the air. The best is saved until last, however, as McRae spins almost out of control as the curtain drops, our final glimpse of the ballet being that of him appearing to take off.

The Tales of Beatrix Potter that follows takes the definition of delightful ballet to new heights. With the music composed by John Lanchbery (more famous for La Fille mal garde), it was first choreographed for a film in 1971, and only later performed live. Across several scenes it depicts specific tales, such as The Tale of Two Bad Mice in which Ludovic Ondiviela and Iohna Loots smash all their crockery and send feathers flying from their duvet when they discover that their ham is nothing but plaster.

With each dancer bearing both the mask and costume of their respective animal, the furry female mice dance so elegantly that we soon forget how hard it must be to move in such multi-layered dresses. Similarly, the male mice are dressed so dapperly in Edwardian costume that it amuses us to see them still behaving like mice, using their tales as skipping ropes and maypoles.

As the baby mice (all junior associates of the Royal Ballet School) scuttle on, some timidly, others mischievously, to place their washing in Mrs Tiggy-Winkles basket, it invites screams of both laughter and delight from the audience. Samantha Raines Jemima Puddle-Duck proudly struts on points, or conversely waddles aimlessly, oblivious to the danger posed by Fox, played as one seriously cool customer by Gary Avis. Then the squirrels scuttle across a bridge and paddle down the river before Paul Kays Squirrel Nutkin loses his tail at the feet of Owl.

Interestingly, however, amidst such an abundance of charm, Peter Rabbits solo dance with two lettuces is not quite as attention grabbing. Similarly, whilst Jeremy Fisher may hold us in our seats by virtue of Kenta Kuras slick delivery of the fishing routine, he never really wins our hearts because the basic character just isnt cuddly enough.

Nevertheless, these are small points, and the Tales of Beatrix Potter remains a superlatively charming and slick affair, right up until the moment when conductor Paul Murphy takes his bow and pricks his finger as he shakes Mrs Tiggy-Winkles hand.

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