Thursday eve saw the Russian firecracker Natalia Osipova's debut in the most quintessentially English of English roles. There was no faulting her pyrotechnic agility - her great leap and frothy bourees filled the compact stage with great bursts of joy. Lise was a role she comfortably grew into as the evening went on; the first pas de deux, being so early, was a little tentative, as the debutant concentrated hard on mastering the ribbons and lifts, but as the evening progressed, she relaxed to embrace the nuanced comedy of the piece and was virtually faultless in the second act.
Her Colas, Steven McRae, matched her in temperament; cheeky and possessing equally combustible jumping ability, complemented by an array of dazzling spins. Together, they conquered the stage admirably. However, as is my common complaint with McRae, his self-focussed dancing often forgets the heart of the ballet - that of a simple, rose-filled English country life, which glows without need for adornment. While some have, at the start of Osipova's London residency, noted the self-exhibitionist quality of her interpretations (an inevitable trait of a Bolshoi upbringing), she has improved remarkably in this regard, and is visibly integrating into the Royal Ballet culture. For McRae, however, after several years in the company, subtlety is still not a lesson well-learnt. Seemingly with intentions of raising his international profile, he has become increasingly profligate with his astounding technique, but very often fails to reach the point of poignancy.
Technical excellence and sincerity need not be mutually exclusive; one need only look to the opening night cast of the wonderfully Ashtonian Laura Morera and the other Russian debutant, Vadim Muntagirov, for confirmation of that. Muntagirov is surely headed for stardom of the loftiest sort; so eloquent is his arabesque and supple are his extensions that he need not really put on an 'act' - his Colas was as green and tender as the springtime grass, emanating sheer happiness. A strange pairing on paper, this Lise and Colas were ardent, coy and glowed internally, which is infinitely more rewarding.