COSTA MESA — The ballets that Frederick Ashton created for Anthony Dowell took the art of classical partnering to new
levels of sophistication--levels that dancers after Dowell have not always found congenial. In the final two Royal Ballet performances of Ashton's "The Dream," Sunday at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, two otherwise fine Oberons ultimately came to grief in the great "Nocturne" pas de deux that crowns the work.
In the afternoon, Bruce Sansom offered a distinctively sulky, aristocratic interpretation of Oberon, and he brought plenty of power and freedom to solo passages. These qualities vanished, however, in the pas de deux where he not only looked effortful but seldom connected in emotional terms with Viviana Durante as Titania.
Unfailingly gracious and secure, Durante explored a narrow, curiously sedate notion of the role: a failure of imagination more than dancing. At the same performance, Anthony Bourne never proved fast, light or sharp enough for an ideal Puck, but Peter Abegglen--who had danced Puck the previous evening--provided a remarkably playful, sympathetic and detailed portrayal of Bottom.
Sunday evening, Tetsuya Kumakawa danced Oberon opposite the previously reviewed Sarah Wildor. Displaying the phenomenal virtuosity that had marked his performance of Puck the previous afternoon, Kumakawa also acted persuasively, showing Oberon as a volatile nature-spirit. However, his dancing in the pas de deux began prosaically and ended somewhere near glum exhaustion.
There's no reason why Puck can't be as tall as Oberon, but Philip Mosley smeared too many steps and body-shapes to be accounted successful in the role on Sunday night. A mostly new set of mortal lovers added to the interest of this last performance in the Orange County engagement, with Nicola Tranah and Gary Avis spirited as Helena and Demetrius--but Muriel Valtat achieving a special comic delicacy as Hermia.
Reviewed earlier in these pages, Ashton's "Tales of Beatrix Potter" completed both programs. The company's professionalism minimized the impact of two accidents at the matinee. In "The Dream," an unscheduled exit by the child playing the Changeling Indian Boy forced Sansom to retrieve him offstage for the resolution of one of the ballet's key plot points. Later, the dollhouse bed collapsed under Mosley as he jumped on it during the second mouse episode of "Beatrix Potter."