The Royal Ballet: Back on Stage review – an exuberant return

Sarah Crompton
·2-min read

The history of the Royal Ballet is entwined with the fortunes of the Royal Opera House. The reopening of Covent Garden at the end of the second world war was marked by a performance of The Sleeping Beauty; 53 years later, Darcey Bussell’s Lilac Fairy brought the theatre back to life after a two-year closure for redevelopment.

The RB’s current director, Kevin O’Hare, was alert to the significance of yet another reawakening gala, with dance performed in front of a live audience (400 of us, including health workers) for the first time since Covid-19 forced closure in March. He acknowledged as much by opening with Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty overture, soaring upwards from the stalls where the orchestra sat in socially distanced pomp.

The ensuing three hours made the future look suddenly brighter, as the dancers once again spread their wings, unleashing profound emotion, finding expression beyond words. Love for ballet itself was there, particularly in a Don Quixote pas de deux, dazzlingly performed by Marianela Nuñez and Vadim Muntagirov, finding intimacy and pleasure in ballet’s most formal steps. Ecstatic love was there too, especially when Francesca Hayward skimmed around the stage opposite Cesar Corrales in Romeo and Juliet.

The tension between love and suffering illuminated Edward Watson’s searing performance in a snippet from Wayne McGregor’s Woolf Works, alongside an outstanding Calvin Richardson as his lost lover; it blew the roof off in Kenneth MacMillan’s pas de deux from Carousel with Mayara Magri and Matthew Ball excelling both in pyrotechnics and subtle drama.

Simple joy was there, too, notably in a glorious section from La Fille mal gardée performed with brio by Marcelino Sambé and Anna Rose O’Sullivan and a people-packed rendition of MacMillan’s exuberant Elite Syncopations. The dancers shimmered with profligate energy, sharing their collective liberation with their audience. You can still watch online for £16. It’s glorious - and therapeutic.