The Last Marguerite and Armand – Sergei Polunin
The Last Marguerite and Armand

The Last Marguerite and Armand

Last Marguerite for Tamara Rojo and her Armand, Sergei Polunin

One Last Pas de Deux for Stars of the Royal Ballet

the lastTamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin in “Marguerite and Armand.”   Photo: Tristram Kenton, ROH

LONDON—On Thursday night at Covent Garden, Sergei Polunin and Tamara Rojo will give their last performance, for the foreseeable future, with the Royal Ballet in Frederick Ashton’s “Marguerite and Armand.” The condensed retelling of the “Traviata” story was created in 1963 for Margot Fonteyn and her much younger new partner, Rudolf Nureyev.

The pair sold out performances for months

Ms. Rojo and Mr. Polunin’s few performances in these roles have been sold out for months—and not just because they are both major stars. It is also because they both left the Royal Ballet, albeit for very different reasons, just months apart last year. And in Mr. Polunin’s case, it initially seemed unlikely that he would ever return.

The Ukrainian-born Mr. Polunin had come to the Royal Ballet School at 13, joined the company at 17, and was promoted to principal at 19—the youngest ever at the Royal Ballet. When he walked out abruptly in January 2012, the ballet world reeled in shock. Mr. Polunin, then just 22, was routinely declared to be the biggest talent the company had seen in a long while, lauded for the beauty and purity of his technique, the passion and ardor of his dancing.

But despite his triumphs and his scheduled debuts in major ballets that season, Mr. Polunin suddenly quit, grumbling about the grueling demands of rehearsal, the lack of freedom, his missed childhood, the pressures of expectation and the toll taken by ballet on his body. His resignation made headlines around the world, and he fueled them by talking about his love of tattoos ( he is a part-owner of a tattoo parlour in north London) and his dislike of the Royal Ballet style of management.

Two announcements of leaving the Royal Ballet

Just as the shock of Mr. Polunin’s departure was fading, Ms. Rojo announced that she too was leaving. Her reason was rather more considered—she had been appointed the new director of the English National Ballet—although there had been rumors that she, too, was dissatisfied at the Royal Ballet. “It was clear her wings had been officially clipped,” wrote Luke Jennings of the ballerina’s last few months with the company, in last weekend’s “Observer.”

Ms. Rojo’s appointment was no surprise to ballet world insiders who knew that she had long aspired to run a company, and had offered her candidature for the top Royal Ballet job when Monica Mason announced she would retire in 2012. (The position went to Kevin O’Hare, a former dance and the company’s administrative director.

The partnership’s reappearance did not disappoint

Meanwhile Mr. Polunin seemed to decide that he wanted to dance after all.  He found a home with the Stanislavsky Ballet in Moscow, and a mentor in its director, Igor Zelensky, a former Kirov and New York City Ballet principal. The announcement that he would return to the Royal Ballet as a guest artist was nonetheless unexpected.  It suggests that he has a better relationship with Mr. O’Hare than he did with Ms. Mason—and perhaps indicating how important his partnership with Ms. Rojo in “Marguerite and Armand” had been to him.

In any event, Mr. Polunin and Ms. Rojo didn’t disappoint. Their reappearance at Covent Garden was heralded with universally ecstatic reviews.  Mr. Polunin was lauded for a new maturity in his portrayal of the young Armand. “A performance of such dramatic intensity that the audience sat in silence, as if afraid to breathe,” wrote Sarah Crompton in “The Daily Telegraph.” of the opening night on Feb. 12.

Someone may well have forgotten to breathe on Friday, when I saw Ms. Rojo and Mr. Polunin in the ballet. Moments after Marguerite slumped lifeless in Armand’s arms, an audience member close by fainted, with a resounding crash to the floor. Was it the effect of Mr. Polunin’s visible anguish as he cradled the limp body? Ms. Rojo’s gorgeously dramatic death? The unforgettable intensity of their performance made it seem perfectly possible.


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