Essential Royal Ballet and Pas de Deux Opus Arte OA1379BD

Essential Royal Ballet; Pas de Deux
Artists of the Royal Ballet, Orchestra of the Royal Opera House
rec. live, 2005-2018, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Video format 16:9. Audio formats: LPCM 2.0, DTS-HD Master Audio. All regions.
Booklets with track listings, production details, notes and photographs.
Reviewed in surround sound.
Opus Arte OA1379BD [2 DVDs: 221]

This box set contains two DVDs, each issued earlier and available separately. Here are two collection of extracts from classic productions and performances by The Royal Ballet, filmed live in performance at their home at The Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. For a newcomer, this is a fine introduction to the ballet art form and to the Royal Opera repertory. For the balletomane, it is a reminder of the company’s recent glories.

In Essential Royal Ballet, a near 90-minute documentary, the familiar UK cultural presenter Katie Derham introduces excerpts from Royal Ballet productions and goes backstage to meet dancers in the company. The dancers introduce their favourite ballets and offer their own insights on the roles shown.

There are superb solos and pas de deux, and plenty of stage spectacle, also numbers for the corps de ballet. Famous favourite dancers seen in action here include Marianela Núñez, Natalia Osipova, Carlos Acosta, Vadim Muntagirov and Steven McRae, alongside rising stars like Francesca Hayward and Matthew Ball. The ballet scenes, filmed in 2005-2018, come from such classics as Giselle, La Bayadère, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker, and The Royal Ballet’s modern accomplishments in works by choreographers Frederick Ashton, Kenneth MacMillan, Christopher Wheeldon and Wayne McGregor.

It is difficult to pick out any item, since all are already hand-picked in a sophisticated piece of curation. Even so, I headed straight for Swan Lake, Act Three pas de deux, with Marianela Núñez and Vadim Muntagirov. I had just seen them both on the Covent Garden stage in these roles and this production, and was amazed at the artistic calibre on display. Well, here they both are, caught on film in 2018 when Liam Scarlett’s production was new, and it is quite wonderful. Both dancers are technically most accomplished, and Núñez’s execution of the notorious thirty-two fouettés is thrilling. But there is also much lyrical expressiveness. Be warned: you might end up wanting to acquire from Opus Arte the whole ballet – and not only this ballet.

The other collection, Pas de deux, focusses entirely on duets in modern and classical works. It brings together from sixteen exceptional numbers from The Royal Ballet’s repertory from 2006-2015. First there are two sequences, one each for the choreographers who have done such fine work with the company: Frederick Ashton’s Voices of Spring and La Fille Mal Gardée, and then Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet, Concerto, Elite Syncopations, Manon and Mayerling. Wayne McGregor and Christopher Wheeldon are also represented, along with a selection from the 19th-century ballet classics.

The same famous dancers reappear, but there is very little overlap in material between the two discs. One Swan Lake Act Three pas de deux is from a 2009 production, another from a 2018 production, with both dancers different. Again, it is hard to select examples from this collection when there is such variety and uniform excellence. I find it hard to resist the Act One, Scene Two pas de deux from Macmillan’s Manon; Manon is Tamara Rojo and Des Grieux is Carlos Acosta. That is very touching in its intense romantic feeling.

The sound on both discs is very good, in stereo and in surround. Audience applause is retained, and you might well be tempted to join in. The video direction and filming are up to the high standards Opus Arte has achieved in this venue over many years. Some wider shots show the productions’ settings, and there are sensitive close-ups. In summary, this is an ideal ‘starter pack’ for exploring ballet on film, or a souvenir for seasoned Royal Ballet watchers, and we should now include those who watch live in a cinema.

Roy Westbrook

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Contents of Essential Royal Ballet

Giselle – Act II pas de deux: Natalia Osipova, Carlos Acosta
La Bayadère – Kingdom of the Shades: Artists of The Royal Ballet
Don Quixote – Espada solo: Ryoichi Hirano
Swan Lake – Act III pas de deux: Marianela Núñez, Vadim Muntagirov
The Nutcracker – Waltz of the Flowers: Yuhui Choe, Francesca Hayward, Artists of The Royal Ballet
The Nutcracker – Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy: Lauren Cuthbertson
Symphonic Variations – Extract: Marianela Núñez, Vadim Muntagirov
La fille mal gardée – Clog Dance: William Tuckett
The Dream – Titania and Oberon pas de deux: Akane Takada, Steven McRae
Romeo and Juliet – Balcony pas de deux: Matthew Ball and Yasmine Naghdi
Mayerling – Bedroom pas de deux: Edward Watson, Natalia Osipova
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Mad Hatter’s Tea Party: Lauren Cuthbertson, Steven McRae, Artists of The Royal Ballet
Infra – Excerpt: Marianella Núñez, Artists of The Royal Ballet
The Sleeping Beauty – Act III Finale: Marianela Núñez, Vadim Muntagirov, Artists of The Royal Ballet

Contents of Pas de Deux

Fredrick Ashton Ballets
Voices of Spring – Yuhul Chloe, Alexander Campbell
La fille mal gardée – from Act 2: Roberta Marquez, Steven McRae

Kenneth MacMillan Ballets
Manon – Act 1, scene 2: Tamara Rojo, Carlos Acosta
Mayerling – Act 2, scene 5: Mara Galeazzi, Edward Watson
Elite Syncopations – Bethena (Concert Waltz): Sarah Lamb, Valeri Hristov
Concerto – second movement: Marianella Núñez, Rupert Pennefather
Romeo and Juliet – Act 1 scene 6: Lauren Cuthbertson, Frederic Bonelli

Modern Classics
The Winter’s Tale – Act 2: Sarah Lamb, Steven McRae
Limen – Sarah Lamb, Eric Underwood
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – Act 3: Lauren Cuthbertson, Sergei Polunin

Nineteenth-Century Classics
Swan Lake – Act 2: Marianella Núñez, Thiago Soares
Swan Lake – Act 3: Natalia Osipova, Matthew Golding
The Nutcracker – Act 2: Miyako Yoshida, Steven McRae
Don Quixote – Act 3: Marianella Núñez, Carlos Acosta
Giselle – Act 2 and conclusion: Alina Cojocaru, Johan Kobborg