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The company returns to its home in a gala performance


BWW Review: THE ROYAL BALLET: BACK ON STAGE, Royal Opera HouseThe Royal Ballet returned to the stage for the first time in seven months on Friday night. Yes, I could contextualise about how this was bittersweet and dampened by social distancing. But the dance was too stupendous to give any time to that - so let's not, and just marvel about how wonderful it was to see them again.

The evening was a gala of the Royal's greatest hits, both classics and new work. All performed with explosive attack and energy, tangibly demonstrating how much it meant to them to be back on stage, freed (for the moment) from the necessity of Zoom classes in their kitchen.

Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball brought youthful joy and elation to Kenneth MacMillan's rarely seen If I Loved You pas de deux from Carousel. Established Principals Sarah Lamb and Ryoichi Hirano gave a regal elegance to Balanchine's Diamonds pas de deux, while there was touching emotion and tenderness to Akane Takada and Federico Bonelli's recognisable segment from Swan Lake's first white act.

All the above and more were poised, without any hint of the challenges and restrictions placed on them in the past months. Their unadulterated passion for the opportunity to perform was effortlessly conveyed to the depleted audience and through our laptop screens to the thousands hanging off every step from home.

The action concluded with a favourite from the company repertoire in MacMillan's Elite Syncopations. The colourful costumes and the jaunty score, accompanied by the full cast on stage (socially distanced and bubbled as necessary) proved quite a tear-jerker. The sight of the corps de ballet dancing without being able to touch their partners was a stark reminder that things are nowhere near normal yet. Nonetheless, it was delivered stylishly, with Claire Calvert, Gina Storm Jensen and Ramany Pajdak making jolly work of the Cascades section and Yasmine Naghdi on glittering form in the Stop Time Rag.

There isn't time to mention every show-stopping pas de deux from the knockout selection offered. Fumi Kaneko danced with an intensity and power not normally displayed from her in a new work by Cathy Marston, In Our Wishes. Beautifully sultry costuming from Roksanda, and Kaneko's palpable connection shared on stage with real-life partner Reece Clarke was a must-see.

Anna Rose O'Sullivan and Marcelino Sambe were everything you could wish for and more in Frederick Ashton's La Fille mal gardée; charming and precise, the pair were a delight to watch. Perhaps most impactful of all were Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales in the Act One pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet - the connection the couple shared conveyed powerfully, Corrales rarely taking his eyes off his partner. Clearly with ample time to rehearse together, the lifts and throws were smooth and confident, the whole performance coming naturally to both of them.

With over 50 dancers on stage and the Orchestra of the Royal Opera House social distanced in the newly cleared stalls, this treat of a gala was a feast for the senses after the recent drought in live performances. A further COVID-friendly programme is in the works before Christmas as well as Nutcracker, and the dancers are more than ready.

The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage is available to view online until 8 November for £16

Image: Tristram Kenton

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