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Ballet Essentials: Monotones I and II / The Two Pigeons

Our quick introduction to this mixed programme of works by Frederick Ashton, Founder Choreographer of The Royal Ballet.

By Paul Kilbey (Content Producer (Ballet))

13 November 2015 at 4.48pm | Comment on this article

Modernism and Romance

Frederick Ashton, The Royal Ballet’s Founder Choreographer, left a legacy of more than a hundred works. Many of them remain cornerstones of The Royal Ballet’s repertory, and across two mixed programmes this Season the Company pays tribute to the remarkable scope of his choreography. In the first of these programmes, the minimal, modernist Monotones I and II precedes The Two Pigeons, a warm-hearted romance that has not been seen on the Royal Opera House stage for 30 years.

A Vision from the Future

Ashton created Monotones, later renamed Monotones II, in 1965. The contrast with the lavishly designed story ballets he had recently created (La Fille mal gardée and The Dream, for example) could not be greater. Three figures, clad in futuristic plain-white costumes designed by Ashton himself, gracefully dance in an unusually acrobatic and intricate style. A companion piece, Monotones I, followed the next year.

Hypnotic Melodies

For Monotones I and II Ashton used music by Erik Satie: his Gnossiennes and Gymnopédies, two sets of three short pieces originally for solo piano. Their simple style creates a hypnotic, otherworldly atmosphere that is the perfect complement to Ashton’s enigmatic steps.

Lovers and Gypsies

In The Two Pigeons, a Young Man unsuccessfully attempts to paint his lover, but finds himself drawn towards a wild Gypsy Girl. He follows her back to her camp, but things soon take a turn for the worse. Will love find a way?

Loving Pigeons

For the first time since 1985, The Royal Ballet is joined onstage by two pigeons, who mirror the story of the young lovers in Ashton’s touching tale set to music by Messager. First performed in 1961, The Two Pigeons is an enchanting fable of young love and makes a much-anticipated return – according to Director of The Royal Ballet Kevin O’Hare, of all Ashton’s works, The Two Pigeons is the one he has most often been asked to revive. It returns to the stage later this Season in a mixed programme with Ashton’s dazzling Rhapsody.

Monotones I and II / The Two Pigeons runs 18 November–5 December 2015.

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