Others, though, appear to have fallen by the wayside. It is the case of The Two Pigeons, now making a welcome return to the Royal Ballet stage, after an absence of nearly 30 years.
It is a love story told in Ashton’s inimitable style, with humour, lightness of touch and supremely eloquent choreography.
Drawing his inspiration from a fable by La Fontaine about two pigeon lovers, Ashton developed a story about two very human lovers in 19th century Paris. The Young Man, a painter, is restless and abandons his lover, The Young Girl, to follow his infatuation with a gypsy woman. Of course, life with the group of gypsies is not all he had dreamt of, and he returns to his true love a chastened and wiser man.
Throughout, the travails of the lovers are shadowed by two live pigeons that fly onto the stage, either as a pair or singly, to denote the various stages of the affair. As the ballet ends with the lovers reunited sitting lovingly on a chair, the pair of birds fly in and perch above them on the chair.
A risky proposition, that; but Covent Garden is by now well-used to having live animals on stage, from Peregrine, the hugely popular white pony in La Fille, to Henry, the Springer Spaniel in Marriage of Figaro, plus assorted chickens, a donkey and a horse in the recent realistic production of the opera Carmen.
Ashton’s choreography for the lovers is tender and wistful, contrasting with the exotic and colourful scenes in the gypsies’ camp; the role of the gypsy woman provides a sensual and suggestive tour-de-force for a good character dancer and contrasts wildly with the gentler rather bird-like nature of The Young Girl’s dancing.
Music is by the French composer André Messager, adapted by Ashton’s regular collaborator, John Lanchbery; designs are by Jacques Dupont.
Monotones I/II could not offer a greater contrast. A modernist diptych choreographed on music by Erik Satie, Gnossiennes and Gymnopedies respectively, Monotones embodies the very essence of Ashtonian classicism, pure dance divested of any props or diversions.
Both pieces are pas de trois. Interestingly, Monotones II, for two men and one woman, was created first for a gala performance in 1965. Such was its success that the following year Ashton added Monotones I, this time for two women and one man.
Both pieces take their cue from Satie’s music – an earthy feel to Monotones I, and a more spiritual elevated tone to Monotones II.
Designs are by Ashton himself – the green of nature for Monotones I, and pure figure-hugging white for Monotones II.
This is, in short, a programme for true ballet lovers; and in its contrasting components likely to bring enjoyment to even the most demanding punters.
|What||Royal Ballet - Monotones I & II/Two Pigeons, Royal Opera House|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
18 Nov 15 – 05 Dec 15, 1930 plus matinée Sat 5th December 1330
|Website||click here to book via the ROH website|