Rojo and Polunin: “The dancers become the dance”

February in London can be the nastiest month of the year. Winter lingers.

Seasonal affective disorder gets a grip.

The spring blossoms are a lifetime away.

Only one thing would have taken me back to London this February – the farewell performance of Tamara Rojo in Ashton’s Marguerite and Armand, together with the extraordinary dancer, Sergei Polunin, who at 22, departed suddenly from the Royal Ballet a year ago, and is now a principal at the Stanislavsky Ballet in Moscow.

Sadly, I didn’t make the journey to see these two artists, one of whom gave her farewell performance at Covent Garden and the other, returning to the Royal Ballet but only for a brief moment when he showed the London audiences what they are missing.

The photo of the couple was taken by Bill Cooper, a former dancer and an excellent ballet photographer.

The majority of London critics raved about the performance of Rojo and Polunin with The Guardian’s Luke Jennings describing Polunin as stalking the stage like a panther, “his every breath and gesture a cry of longing for Rojo’s ailing, consumptive Marguerite. The pair have danced the ballet before, in 2011, but on that occasion Polunin’s performance, while elegant, was too self-absorbed.

“Now it’s all about her, and while his dancing is faultless, it’s the other things that you remember. His burning gaze. The ferocious tenderness of his touch. The terrible desperation with which he buries his face in her neck.

“At 38, Rojo has never been more incandescently beautiful, nor more vulnerable. Her performance seems to contain fleeting aspects of all the great ballerina roles that she’s performed, and like Polunin’s, her technique is all but invisible. You see it – the skimming jetés, the fluttering bourrées, the yearning arabesque – but only as the under-drawing on which she paints her emotions”.

He concludes with a reference to Yeats’ line ‘how can we know the dancer from the dance?’

“And it’s for this, ultimately, that we go to the ballet. To see the dancer become the dance”.

Their performance has been filmed, and will eventually be available on DVD so we can all see what Louise Levene of the The Telegraph described as “an exquisitely painful reminder of the great Royal Ballet partnership that might have been”.

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Tamara Rojo and Sergei Polunin in Marguerite and Armand, photo © Bill Cooper/Royal Opera House