On the other hand, we were all fully aware that this was one last hurrah before the theatre went dark again, with a new Covid-19 lockdown set to shroud the country within just a couple of hours of curtain down..
As an unusually subdued Royal Ballet director, Kevin O'Hare, put it in his opening remarks: 'welcome to our opening performance, which is also our closing performance.'
Unsettling as all this is for us the audience, it is undoubtedly doubly so for the performers. After all, dancers need to dance, and they feed off the reactions of live audiences. The performance of the Within The Golden Hour bill, scheduled for 13 November, will go ahead; but only for a live-stream to our screens.
And so it was that the Royal Ballet, a company surely 'at the top of its game', to quote O'Hare again, offered an uncharacteristically nervy performance. Whereas in the Back On Stage gala, only a few weeks ago, every last dancer's hope for a full return to performance after six months of enforced absence showed in their explosive energy, commitment and sheer artistry, now many seemed distracted, the fizz gone.
Part One of the programme consisted of a series of excerpts from the Royal's extensive repertoire; Part Two was a reprise of MacMillan's ragtime extravaganza, Elite Syncopations, now enlarged to include most of the company. With its colourful costumes, zany variations, and jolly ragtime music played live by a small on-stage combo (all suitably attired in carnival costumes), it sent us home uplifted, never mind that there were a few unfortunate slips, including one dancer coming on stage with her mask still on.
Part One came across as a random selection of works, mixing old gala favourites, like Le Corsaire pas de deux, entrusted here to Matthew Ball and Mayara Magri, both technically able, but both looking distracted, with more substantial pieces like Ashton's Monotones II, and his Rhapsody. The latter opened the programme in a thrillingly nuanced interpretation by Akane Takada and Alexander Campbell, both at ease with its delicate, gossamer choreography.
Fumi Kaneko and Reece Clarke reprised their angst-ridden, end-of-the-affair pas de deux in Cathy Marston's In Our Wishes, proving yet again that this is a near-perfect partnership, to be cherished and fostered.
Laura Morera was her usual compelling self in the bedroom pas de deux from MacMillan's Manon, as the young woman revelling in first love: sexy, enticing and always sublimely musical, proving irresistible to Federico Bonelli's solid Des Grieux.
Laura Morera as Manon, Federico Bonelli as Des Grieux ©ROH 2020. Photo: Emma Kauldhar
Francesca Hayward was a slightly underpowered Odette in her Swan Lake Act II pas de deux with William Bracewell, the partnership showing none of the intense chemistry they demonstrated in last year's filmed version of Romeo and Juliet.
Joseph Sissens is a dancer with a perfect classical line, with which he dazzled once again in his performance of Ashton's mystical, yet intensely physical, Dance of the Blessed Spirits.
Joseph Sissens in Dance of the Blessed Spirits © ROH 2020. Photo: Emma Kauldhar
Equally engaging was Claire Calvert's The Dying Swan.
Part One ended with Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux interpreted by principals sans pareil Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov. We would suggest checking out their rehearsal on YouTube as part of World Ballet Day, a better account of this very demanding piece than their stage performance.
The Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, now returned to the pit, provided live musical accompaniment to Part One, under the reliable baton of Jonathan Lo.
The Royal Ballet dancers will be able to continue taking class and rehearsing throughout lockdown; we can only hope they'll soon be able fully to return to the stage having transcended the current, so deeply unsettling, stop-start situation.
|What||Review: The Royal Ballet Live, Elite Syncopations|
|Where||Royal Opera House, Bow Street, Covent Garden, London, WC2E 9DD | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Covent Garden (underground)|
04 Nov 20 – 31 Dec 20, 19:00 Dur.: 2 hours 15 mins inc one interval