Royal Ballet triple bill – reviews of 'richly elegiac' dance works

Three ballets set around WWII themes offer 'tremendously beautiful' dance and 'terrific' music

Royal Ballet triple bill
(Image credit: Bill Cooper)

What you need to know

A new Royal Ballet triple bill inspired by music and themes from the WWII period is playing at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. The bill features one new work, Liam Scarlett's Age of Anxiety, and two works dating back to 2103 - Kim Brandstrup's Ceremony of Innocence and Christopher Wheeldon's Aeternum.

Kim Brandstrup's Ceremony of Innocence was created for the Benjamin Britten centenary, and is set to Britten's Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge, an elegy of lost youth. Wheeldon's Aeternum, choreographed to Britten's 1940 Sinfonia da Requiem – is a response to the outbreak of WWII. Scarlett's new work, Age of Anxiety, is based on the 1946 poem by W H Auden and set to Leonard Bernstein's Symphony no.2. Runs until 17 November.

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What the critics like

This triple bill is a hymn to the new, yet there is nothing brash or outlandish about this collection of "decorous, sonorous, richly elegiac ballets", says Laura Thompson in the Daily Telegraph. Brandstrup's Ceremony of Innocence, set to a delving, melancholic score by Britten is tremendously beautiful.

This triple bill picks up on and subtly plays with the anxiety felt by those great British artists, Britten and Auden, in the 1930s and 1940s, says Hanna Weibye on the Arts Desk. Liam Scarlett wrings a poignant story from Auden's poem, with "four stupendous actor-dancers", riveting in their roles and with more than a hint of Gene Kelly.

Even if you don't fancy everything in this Royal Ballet triple bill "you are in for a terrific evening of music", says Debra Craine in The Times. The programme ends with Christopher Wheeldon's powerful Aeternum, a passionate journey into death culminating in a gripping duet, while the three great scores are conducted with fervour and dedication by Barry Wordsworth.

What they don't like

For all its craft, Scarlett's Age of Anxiety, dealing with post-war themes of disillusionment and confusion, "feels disappointingly lightweight", says Judith Makrell in The Guardian. He might have made a bolder and more personal ballet if he'd opted to update its scenario to his own 21st-century age of anxiety.

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