By Lyndsey Winship
18 February 2020
Jacqueline du Pré danced with her cello. In concert footage, her body sighs and sways as her music soars. But it’s a leap from lyrical presence on the podium to transposing Du Pré’s tragically short life into dance, a challenge taken up by choreographer Cathy Marston in her first main stage commission for the Royal Ballet.
The Cellist comes in a double bill with Jerome Robbins’ 1969 Dances at a Gathering – Chopin piano, dreamy pastels, choreography of conversational nuance and lovely, subtle dancing – but it’s Marston’s ingenuity we’re all here to see. She is bold in having a dancer (Marcelino Sambé) embody the cello itself, kneeling in front of Du Pré (a radiant Lauren Cuthbertson), arm raised like the neck of the instrument as the cellist draws her hand across the air holding an invisible bow.
This picture spirals off into something more expansive, but they return to the motif. Mostly it seems to work, although there are cumbersome moments of pas de deux, not least due to the awkwardness of the cellist’s wide-legged stance. But there’s also the easy flow of bodies entwined, the way artist, instrument and music become one.
Composer Philip Feeney weaves extracts from Du Pré’s rep into his score and Marston has Du Pré and conductor Daniel Barenboim (Matthew Ball) fall in love on the concert stage, locking eyes over Elgar’s Cello Concerto. Aware of the music’s importance, Marston crowds the scene, with the imperious Ball dancing off the podium, an orchestra of dancers rising and falling and Cuthbertson changing from bright innocent girl to woman in love as we watch. It’s arguably an overload, although more generally the whirlwind of motion evokes exactly the giddy joy and genius shown in Christopher Nupen’s film The Trout, featuring Du Pré and Barenboim in their youthful prime.
Read the full review in The Guardian.