What about Xander?
Last week Vladimir Shklyarov, principal dancer of the Mariinsky Ballet and the Bayerische Staatsballett, was confirmed as a guest artist with the Royal Ballet. He is to dance two performances of Marguerite and Armand with Natalia Osipova, and replaces Sergei Polunin, who has withdrawn from the ballet. Shklyarov is a dashing and technically assured dancer, and he has performed opposite Osipova before, in Giselle.
This casting decision, however, raises a number of questions. Why, out of the three men cast for this Ashton ballet, is only one (Federico Bonelli) a member of the Royal Ballet? The La Scala étoile Roberto Bolle is suitably tall, given that his partner is Zenaida Yanowsky, but Armand is a young man, and at 42 Bolle is hardly in the first flush of youth. Shklyarov is splendid, but could the Royal really not furnish a partner for Osipova from within its own ranks? If only one company male dancer is perceived by the Royal Ballet as equal to this quintessential Ashton role (and note that Bonelli, like Bolle, trained in Italy), Covent Garden audiences are entitled to ask why.
When Polunin was invited to dance Armand, it was in a spirit of rapprochement, following his precipitate departure from the Royal in 2012 (Polunin danced the role in 2011 with Tamara Rojo, to great acclaim). But why was a similar invitation not extended to Xander Parish, also a former Royal dancer, now performing principal roles at the Mariinsky? Parish is the finest British danseur noble of his generation, he has a legion of British fans, and he has made it known that he is keen to guest at Covent Garden. He has, moreover, danced the role of Armand to great acclaim with Yuliana Lopatkina, and is tall enough to partner any of the three Marguerites (Yanowsky, Alexandra Ferri, Osipova). Casting him would have been appropriate at many levels.
It’s possible that no invitation has been extended to Parish by Royal Ballet director Kevin O’Hare because such a move might be seen as an implicit criticism of his predecessor Monica Mason, who was director of the company from 2002 to 2012 (Parish left in 2010). But this is to view the situation in an unnecessarily negative light. If Mason felt she could not promote Parish, for whatever reason, she was right to let him go. Even if one questions this decision, Mason’s reputation is unassailable. She has given her life to the Royal Ballet, and when she was appointed director in the turbulent days following the departure of Ross Stretton, her experience, dignity and calm leadership proved the key factors in returning the company to a steady course.
When Parish left the Royal to join the Mariinsky, it was the best move he could have made. The challenge might have defeated the self-deprecating 24 year-old; instead, it galvanised him to great things, and it is on this outcome that we should focus. All’s well that ends well, after all. O’Hare showed magnanimity as well as commercial acumen in inviting Polunin as a guest artist, despite Polunin’s well-publicised and often unjustified criticism of the Royal Ballet. That the invitation didn’t work out as planned doesn’t mean that O’Hare was wrong to issue it. It was a recognition that what’s past is past. That it was time to move on.
Parish has never, by word or deed, criticised his former company. He is a courteous and principled man who has succeeded by dint of sheer hard work, and he has been a superb ambassador for British dance. That the Royal has not invited him back to Covent Garden, as it has Polunin, is an anomaly that should surely be corrected. It would reflect positively on all concerned, and demonstrate that the company is looking to the future, rather than dwelling on the past. It would be the graceful thing to do.