Homage to the Queen returns to Covent Garden

Homage to the Queen returns to Covent Garden
One work– four choreographers. With original music by Malcolm Arnold, Homage to the Queen mixes original Frederick Ashton choreography with new sections by Christopher Wheeldon, Michael Corder and David Bintley. Originally devised by Ashton in celebration of the coronation of Her Majesty The Queen in 1953, this reworking from 2006 becomes a delightful compendium of Royal Ballet history and creativity in a single work. When Arnold was a student at the Royal College of Music he became friendly with Constant Lambert, conductor of the College’s second orchestra. Lambert used to go off to the Queen’s Elm with his students, and Arnold would play Lambert’s scores, including the ballets, on the pub piano. In 1951 Arnold wrote an intermezzo for Lambert’s last, ill-fated ballet Tiresias, which Ashton created for Margot Fonteyn.

Two years later Ashton, Fonteyn and Arnold came together again for the Coronation ballet Homage to the Queen. At Humphrey Searle’s suggestion, Arnold was introduced to Ninette de Valois, and the project got underway. Arnold had only ten weeks before the premiere on Coronation night, June 2, 1953, to compose his first ballet. Ashton gave him a breakdown of the ballet with timings (much as Petipa had done for Tchaikovsky). As the Company had four ballerinas at the time, Ashton thought of casting them as four queens: Elizabeth I, Anne, Victoria and Elizabeth II. But the designer, Oliver Messel, could find no way of differentiating sufficiently between the characters, so Ashton changed them to become queens of the four elements. Arnold had already composed some of the score but he was able to incorporate that material into the new scheme.

The ballet opened with a majestic theme before the ceremonial march accompanied the entrée for the four queens with their consorts and attendants. There followed four miniature ballets for each of the elements. First, the Queen of the Earth, Nadia Nerina, and her Consort, Alexis Rassine, with an all-female pas de six. Next, the Queen of Waters, Violetta Elvin, with her partner, John Hart, plus naiads and a pas de trois for Julia Farron, Rowena Jackson and Brian Shaw. (This water section with the dancers’ undulating movements was effectively Ashton’s trial run for Ondine five years later). The Queen of Fire was Beryl Grey, partnered by John Field, with Alexander Grant as the Spirit of Fire. Finally, the Queen of the Air, Margot Fonteyn, entered, borne aloft on Michael Somes’s shoulder; the later pas de deux ended with her carried high in the air supported under the arms by Somes’s raised hands

Part of a new triple bill, Homage to the Queen opens at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden on April 23 2008.

...a lush score... Luke Jennings, The Observer, 11/06/2006
...melodious, colourful score... John Percival, The Stage, 06/06/2006

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