Sara Veale

Sensual and silky: the Royal Ballet returns to Covent Garden

Plus: a fascinating portrait of four recent dance creations

Vadim 'the Dream' Muntagirov in Frederick Ashton's Dance of the Blessed Spirits at Covent Garden. Image: © Tristram Kenton, courtesy the Royal Opera House

Wayne McGregor’s Morgen! and Frederick Ashton’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits are the first pieces of live dance — streamed in real time from an empty auditorium — to come out of Covent Garden since March. Unaware that recordings would be available afterwards, I clung to these fleeting displays with the panic of grandparents on a Zoom call, furiously, helplessly slapping the screen whenever it buffered.

Both are quick ballet interludes to longer opera programmes — not afterthoughts, exactly, but not centrepieces either, though with two shirtless danseurs and a beloved ballerina between them, they do just fine asserting their presence. Vadim ‘the Dream’ Muntagirov tackles the Ashton work, reaffirming his repute with a soulful take on this five-minute lamentation, choreographed in 1978 to Gluck. With his lyrical hand gestures and silky, wistful turns, Muntagirov all but begs us to witness his melancholy. His leaps are spongy, his lines supple and searching. Best of all are his développés derrière, which unfold like spun sugar against flautist Katherine Baker’s quivering notes.

Eyal’s dancers bob like sexy androids while she throws out directions such as ‘now come the screams’

I expected itchy energy from Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales in McGregor’s Strauss-scored piece — the ins and outs of their self-isolation have been well documented on Instagram — but the new work is a polished gust of amorous clasps, more tender than McGregor’s usual fare and more accessible too.

We open with a serene close-up of Hayward reciting verse from the poet John Henry Mackay: ‘Upon us will descend the muted silence of happiness.’ Wide-eyed and soft-tempered, she’s a doe at the riverbank, while her partner slinks in with more of a serpentine vibe, coiling his torso in currents that send his limbs skittering.

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