Sergei Polunin in Sylvia...on a grand scale, the Ukrainian prodigy takes the role further.
The Royal Ballet: Sylvia, A Review

The Royal Ballet: Sylvia, A Review

The Royal Ballet: Sylvia, A Review

4/5 Stars

Royal Opera House, London
Judith Mackrell

Monday, 8 Nov 2010

sergei in sylvia
Debut lovers … Lauren Cuthbertson (Sylvia) and Sergei Polunin (Arminta) in The Royal Ballet’s Sylvia. Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

The lovers in Ashton’s Sylvia barely get to dance together until the final act. And in the case of Lauren Cuthbertson and Sergei Polunin – both making their debuts this season – that’s no bad thing. As a partnership their chemistry doesn’t really click – but in this particular ballet it doesn’t prevent either of them flourishing as individual performers.

The pleasure of watching Cuthbertson lies partly in her unpredictability. Aspects of her dancing are almost old fashioned: the neat straight lines of her technique; the detailed regard she has for style. But she can also be startlingly reckless. She goes full tilt at every challenge, practically leaping over the orchestra pit in her opening jumps, fizzing through the third act pizzicato variation with giggling speeds. In her acting, Cuthbertson never hides behind the easy, text-book gesture. She makes you feel the prickle of fear down Sylvia’s spine when she senses the threat of the predatory Orion. When she believes she has killed Aminta, her body appears to shrink with grief.

Polunin is cast in another mould: Russian on a grand scale. But he also dances with a detailed musical intelligence, shaping and finessing the big steps as succinctly as the little ones. Aminta can easily be sidelined as the ineffectual pretty boy waiting for fate to deliver Sylvia into his arms; Polunin gives the role romantic gravitas by the force of his technique. As a partner he needs to mature, however. While he and Cuthbertson can act a good love affair, in the grand and sexy imagery of the final pas de deux we are too aware of the mechanics, and the difficulty of the partnering. Otherwise theirs is a very promising debut, and it comes with some fine ensemble playing. The assorted naiads and fauns are excellent; Akane Takada is an unfeasibly witty, winsome goat.

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