Best of British: Royal Ballet 2011/12 Season Picks

While details for POB, BRB, Dutch National Ballet and Hamburg Ballet‘s upcoming seasons have been out for a while, the Royal Ballet have just confirmed theirs via press conference this afternoon.

AD Monica Mason’s farewell season presents a well-balanced lineup that pays homage to the company’s solid repertory and showcases the best of new British dance making talent (Wheeldon, McGregor, Scarlett), with focus on “buy 1, get 2 or 3 works” mixed programmes that will satisfy both Team Ashton and Team MacMillan. Unfortunately no surprises for those of us who worship at the temple of Ratmansky but we’re counting our blessings.

Full season details are available from the ROH’s Official Press Release. Below we take our picks out of the full season:

Linda’s picks

Limen / Marguerite and Armand / Requiem (October 2011). Ashton’s Marguerite & Armand was created on Fonteyn and Nureyev to draw on their chemistry (helping fuel gossip as to what might be happening between them off-stage). We are now relishing the opportunity to see Tamara Rojo, a Marguerite of great dramatic range, pair up with young principal Sergei Polunin, debuting as Armand. Also on the bill is MacMillan’s Requiem. Originally created as a tribute to his friend John Cranko for the Stuttgart Ballet, Requiem (danced to Fauré’s Requiem) depicts collective grief, with groups of dancers linking “the earthly” to “the spiritual” as inspired by William Blake’s paintings. A masterpiece.

Tamara Rojo and Artists of The Royal Ballet in Liam Scarlett's Asphodel Meadows. Photo: Johan Persson / ROH ©

Asphodel Meadows / Enigma Variations / Gloria (November 2011) This is the season’s most Emo triple bill, full of nostalgia, angst and death. Liam Scarlett’s Asphodel Meadows, which we much admired during its first run, will be revived. We’re also happy to see the return of Enigma Variations, an Edwardian period piece where 14 characters  – lovers, friends, family members – go about their daily lives and little rituals; this short Ashton piece has not been seen at Covent Garden since 2005. Same with MacMillan and his evocative Gloria, a very personal piece with a WWI background. This is a programme designed to send us home in reflective mode.

Ballet regulars often complain about too many Nutcrackers (December 2011) over the holiday period, but it’s all relative. We’re ready to welcome back Peter Wright’s elegant production for The Royal Ballet after an overdose of Cinderellas and furry animals (Beatrix Potter, Peter and the Wolf) featured over the last two Christmases. I confess I simply can’t wait to watch that magical tree grow.

Peter Wright's production of The Nutcracker. Photo: Dee Conway / ROH ©

The double bill of The Dream / Song of the Earth (February / March 2012) could be nicknamed “Best of British”. Ashton’s The Dream fills Shakespeare’s story with charm, humour and lyricism. Not to be missed are Puck’s fast-paced solos as well as the Nocturne Pas de Deux for Oberon and Titania. A thousand times harder than it looks, the latter stands out as one of Ashton’s finest choreographic inventions. In the second half, I get my “season wish” in one of my all-time favourite ballets, Song of the Earth. Set to Mahler’s song cycle (Das Lied von der Erde) and one of MacMillan’s greatest legacies to ballet, it makes for a mixed bill to soothe one’s soul.

Tamara Rojo as the Sylph and Rupert Pennefather as James in La Sylphide. Photo: Johan Persson / ROH ©

Emilia’s picks

First and foremost the Ballo della Regina / La Sylphide (May – June 2012) double bill. Even though I wish Johan Kobborg’s production of La Sylphide was paired with his equally delicious Napoli divertissements as we had last time around (2007, how time flies!) This is a revival to celebrate and here’s why. Incidentally this week La Sylphide has been ranking high on the #desertislandballet poll taken by @GWDanceWriter on Twitter. Good taste tweeps!

My second favorite programme would be the season finale triple bill of Birthday Offering / A Month in the Country / Les Noces (June – July 2012). Bronislava Nijinska’s masterpiece Les Noces – also a desert island ballet – is overdue for a comeback and makes for perfect pairing with Month, another Russian story of rituals (and society’s conventions of marriage) based on Turgenev’s play of the same name. As for Ashton’s Birthday Offering = mmmm…. okay, though I can’t help but wish for the addition of Ratmansky’s Russian Seasons in its place; that would have given us a well-rounded “Russian Rituals” experience.

Alexandra Ansanelli as Natalia Petrovna and Ivan Putrov as Beliaev in Ashton's A Month in the Country. Photo: Dee Conway / ROH ©

New Scarlett / Polyphonia / New McGregor (April 2012). The good news? Two new ballets in the same bill, by two choreographers whose dance styles could not be more different (classical vs edgy modern). The bad? We have to wait until spring to see the Royal Ballet tackle new work. Good thing that the Linbury Studio Theatre downstairs will be showing new works by Arthur Pita (The Metamorphosis, with Edward Watson playing Gregor Samsa) and Ballet Black towards Sept 2011 and Feb 2012 respectively.

MacMillan favorite Manon (November 2011) returns towards the end of the year and we are promised plenty of new casts. I don’t know how I’ll be feeling by then as we are just about to be served a big plate of Manons (the ballet is also scheduled for the current season, starting next week) and I’ve been guilty of helping myself to multiple bookings. But whatever happens it will be a great opportunity to discover new pairings (are Lauren Cuthbertson and Sergei Polunin to make their debuts?).

Our gamble pick – (Summer 2012)

This National Gallery and Royal Opera House co-production will pair artists – including Turner Prize winners Chris Ofili and Mark Wallinger – and leading choreographers (Wayne McGregor, Christopher Wheeldon…) to collaborate in the creation of new dance pieces inspired by three separate works from Renaissance painter Titian. This looks very promising.

Last but not least… programmes recommended for Ballet Newbies:

  • Jewels (September – October 2011) – Mr B’s abstract three act features gorgeous music, costumes and choreography that truly shines. Chic.
  • Also interesting is a mixed bill of ballet (Rubies section from Balanchine’s Jewels – as above) and opera (Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi) a perfect “ROH discovery” bill.
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (March – April 2012) – Wheeldon’s new story ballet returns next year. It is stylish, creative and full of visual impact. A must.
  • The Sleeping Beauty (October – December 2011) - One needs at least one Petipa blockbuster in one’s ballet-going CV. If not Swan Lake… go with Beauty!
  • Ballo della Regina / La Sylphide (May – June 2012) – One fiendish abstract work, one tragic-yet-to-the-point romantic classic. Perfect bill for those seeking substance.

Leave a comment below and tell us your own season favorites!

We started The Ballet Bag in April 2009 with the mission to prove that ballet is not stuffy, old fashioned and inaccessible; that it is quite the opposite: relevant, fresh and topical. With the aim to Give Ballet a New Spin we try to show it under a different light. When writing our capsule biographies, ballet fact cards, review roundups and commentary on social media, we cross it over with other art forms and cultural references (pop culture, cinema, rock music – ie. other things we love!).


  • May 7, 2012

    Kyrchian Sweeney

    I would like a ballet, that is easy to follow for a new comer to the world of ballet(other than The Nutcracker I have seen it many times) I also want to know if you do “Les Patineur” anymore,( I have been out of the country for many years) it was my first ballet that I saw and I loved it and it sent me on a long journey of Dance and teaching , I have now retired and I have a friend that has never been to a ballet befor!! I would like to give her a treat

  • February 23, 2012

    colin evans

    Please may I receive details of forthcoming events for 2012, specially Alice in Wonderland and do you have an idea of your Chrismas programme yet – many thanks, Colin and Ann Evans – p.s. we saw Swan Lake at the Royal Albert Hall and The Nutcracker in the Colliseum last year and they were absolutely wonderful !