Monotones I and II / The Two Pigeons

Dance, Ballet
4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

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This energetic revival of two ballet classics will give you wings.

It’s 30 years since The Royal Ballet staged Frederick Ashton’s two-act fable The Two Pigeons and a return has been eagerly awaited. You can see why. This is the Ashton of La Fille Mal Gardée territory, unabashedly romantic and delightedly cheeky, dallying with panto cliché but delivering fiercely dazzling steps. Lauren Cuthbertson is perfect as the ditzy Young Girl, too flighty to sit still while her Young Man (Vadim Muntagirov) tries to paint her portrait – cue excellent Russian sulkiness from him. The pair make up with a gentle duet inspired by the sight of two pigeons flying past their window – all fluffing feathers, strutting, head bobbing, and wing fluttering. But she’s left in a flap when in the next moment the Young Man’s head is turned by a gypsy temptress (a tremendous Laura Morera) and she loses the dance-off to her shimmying rival.  

There’s such a swirl of energy unleashed here, especially when we relocate to the rather crowded gypsy camp, that sometimes lines and staging suffer a bit. The exuberance of Morera and Marcelino Sambé (as a rocket-propelled Gypsy Boy), however, are an absolute joy to watch. Meanwhile, Cuthbertson navigates her slim narrative arc to maturity with beautiful poise and her final romantic reconciliation with Muntagirov’s now-penitent Young Man is exquisite. It’s a bit hard to keep your eye on, though, as the two remarkably cooperative live pigeons employed in the closing scene inevitably rather steal the show.

Ashton in a very different guise is revealed in the first part of this programme. The two Monotones are strangely otherworldly abstract works, each for three dancers, the first performed to Satie’s Les Gnossiennes, the second to his Trois Gymnopédies. Both look fiendish in their complexity – and the first trio struggle to find the necessary symmetry. Monotone II is if anything even harder – the slow solemnity of the music is even more exposing and the contortions for the ballerina are extreme – but Marianela Nuñez, Valeri Hristov and Ed Watson, ethereal and serene in pristine white unitards, locate the cool clarity of this choreography.




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