‘The Dream’ opens at Covent Garden without Polunin

The unexpected departure from the Royal Ballet of the Russian performer Sergei Polunin came as a bit of a shock, since he was due to star as Oberon in the Covent Garden opening of Frederick Ashton’s presentation of “The Dream”.

However, on opening night the Australian Steven McRae danced bravely into the breach with the unenviable task of trying to step into Polunin’s shoes, and he is to be commended for his efforts.

“The Dream”, with its complicated and trying choreography, was a challenge met with determination if not quite the airy ease of Polunin. McRae had been rehearsing with Roberta Marquez, but he managed a reasonable partnership with the play’s Titania as performed by Alina Cojocaru. By the end of Ashton’s one-act, fast-moving version of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, with the strains of Mendelssohn as accompaniment, the two had attained a promising partnership.

Alina Cojocaru has a delightful grasp of the lovely and perverse Titania, giving the role a witty interpretation that suits it well. Her delicious equine shudders at Bottom’s nuzzling and the frenzy of affection as she is reunited with Oberon are excellent examples of a repertoire that contains a great deal of both humour and grace.

The second part of the programme is “Song of the Earth” by choreographer Kenneth MacMillan, a much more serious presentation and greatly moving in its beautifully portrayed gamut of human emotions and aspirations. Katharine Goeldner and Toby Spence were outstanding as they sang the song of the earth – Mahler’s ‘Das Lied von der Erde’.

There are no fancy sets or costumes for this one, just a thrilling interpretation of MacMillan’s themes of death and glorious rebirth. Tamara Rojo as The Woman incarnate, and Carlos Acosta as the Messenger of Death were breathtaking in their interpretive roles