The Royal Ballet Back on Stage: Joyous Return After Seven Months

Above photo: Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales, Romeo and Juliet screenshot from the gala New York arts news has been depressing recently with the cancellations of the Metropolitan Opera 2020/2021 season and New York City Ballet Nutcracker, with news that Broadway theaters will be closed until at least until June with no clear path to reopening due to COVID. Add to the mix for sports fans the exit of the Yankees in the baseball postseason, the extreme futility of the football Giants/Jets, and the Knicks’ permanent hopelessness leads to a bleak picture for New York entertainment. For arts fans seeking COVID-era works, there is a ray of light from across the pond with a wonderful Royal Ballet Back on Stage gala streamed and available until November 8 for about $17. Kudos to the Royal Ballet for staging almost three hours of high level and wide-ranging dance entertainment during the COVID crisis.

From a pre-COVID perspective, there was nothing remarkable about the gala; works consisted of excerpts from the vast Royal Ballet repertory, both old and new—standard fare gala material that critics generally complain about (but probably secretly enjoy). What was noteworthy was that the Royal Ballet pulled this off at a high level in the COVID era after a seven-month absence with the entire company participating, many onstage at once with little distancing. Many precautions were in place: limited seating of 400 in the 2,200 seat Royal Opera House consisting of students and health care workers; the orchestra was very spaced out, looking as if the pit spanned the entire first ring of seats; dancers in close proximity on stage in most of the works having either lived together or regularly tested; backstage protocols designed to keep the dancers apart.

The Royal Ballet performance was what I imagined arts would be like at the onset of the crisis in the spring-events where works are presented and streamed with heavy reliance on testing for dancer safety with a sparse audience. This model is similar to US sports, where the NBA, MLB, NFL, and college football are playing to a television audience with little or no live fans, with players undergoing frequent testing. On the other hand, New York arts are much more cautious. No live theater events are on tap. New York City Ballet will have some original works in its Fall Digital Season. The pieces will have restrictions on the number of dancers in each work (four) and dancers who are not in isolation together must maintain social distancing while performing, according to the New York Times. American Ballet Theatre is currently staging works for its 80th Anniversary Fall Gala on November 18, with four choreographers creating works for one to six quarantined and tested dancers.

Royal Ballet back on stage

Socially distanced orchestra pit at the Royal Opera House. Screenshot from the video.

Royal Ballet dancers were in good form delivering strong performances after the long layoff, a testament to the Zoom ballet classes that kept them in shape. Dancer’s Instagram posts showed their diligence through the crisis as they they took classes and danced from home in their living rooms and kitchens. Like my co-workers in my office, I know the layout of the dancer’s apartments, which is more information than I want.

The Royal Ballet Back on Stage gala consisted of 14 works performed at a high level. Standout works included a rousing Don Quixote (what would a gala be without Don Q!) with Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov with great pizzaz from these seasoned pros. Vadim’s double double tour diagonal and Marianela’s open arm fouettés were impressive.

Royal Ballet back on stage

Marianela Nuñez Vadim Muntagirov, Don Quixote. Screenshot from the video.

Akane Takada and Frederico Bonelli presented the Swan Lake Act II Pas de Deux with great delicacy and grace. La Fille Mal Gardée brought joy to the house (and living rooms) with Anna Rose O’Sullivan Marcelino Sambe. A soaring comedic work in these tense times delivered with great timing and energy (I enjoyed their work in Tarantella at the Balanchine City Center Festival in 2018). The Romeo and Juliet balcony scene from Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales (couples off stage) was moving, with great emotion.

Royal Ballet back on stage

Akane Takada and Frederico Bonelli, White Swan Pas de Deux. Screenshot from the video.

Royal Ballet back on stage

Anna Rose O’Sullivan Marcelino Sambe, La Fille Mal Gardée. Screenshot from the video.

Newer works included Christopher Wheeldon’s exciting and frenetic Within the Golden Hour set to a Ezio Bosso score; Natalia Osipova in Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s Medusa, and Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Forks with Edward Watson, Akane Takada, Calvin Richardson, filled with great poignant dramatic action. The evening ended on a jovial note with Kenneth MacMillan’s Elite Syncopations, set mostly to Scott Joplin scores with the band playing in the background. Yasmine Naghdi led the group with robust whimsical timing. Bold, colorful, whacky costumes jammed the stage in an uplifting ending to the evening. We can all use some comedy these days.

The Royal Ballet Back on Stage is available until November 8.

More reviews:

Debra Craine of The Times
Lyndsey Winship of The Guardian
Mark Monahan of The Telegraph
Zoe Anderson of The Independent
Vikkki Jane Vile of Broadway World
Graham Watts of Backtrack
Jenny Gilbert of The Arts Desk
Jim Prichard of Seen and Heard International
Teresa Guerreiro of Culture Whisper
Wonderful World of Dance
British Theatre Guide
The Stage