When the Royal Ballet first performed Ashton's "A Month in the Country" several British critics suggested it might be interesting to see a very young man play the tutor Beliaev, a role created by Anthony Dowell when he was in his early 30s. Saturday afternoon at the Kennedy Center Ashley Page made an auspicious dubut in the role and his youth changed the focus of the ballet.
Page's nearness in age to the ward, Vera, and nearness in station to the maid, Katia, made dramatic sense and brought a special poignancy to his relationship with the matron of the house. If Page as yet lacks Dowell's superb control in adagio and smooth partnering, he used his own abrupt phrasing and feline energy successfully to portray a dangerously exciting young whirlwind who temporarily destroyed the domestic tranquility of a bored household.
As Natalia Petrovna, Merle Park gave a performance of exquisite subtlety. The underlying affection for her husband and old friend Rakitin were never in doubt. Her interest in Beliaev developed slowly and, rather than dissolving hysterically when he departed, she regarded the flower he left her as proof of the sincerity of his feelings and was, at the end, mature, self-confident and at peace with her life. Her dancing throughout was clear and precise, as was that of Wendy Ellis' Vera and Rolsalyn Whitten's Katia.
In the evening performance, Sandra Conley was a somewhat overwrought Natalia Petrovna and Michael Coleman (substituting for Dowell, who sustained an injury in Friday night's performance) a rather dull Beliaev.
At the matinee's "Daphnis and Chloe," Marguerite Porter's outraged innocence made sense of the scene where Chloe is mauled by the jolly pirates. Jennifer Penney's dramatically bland Chloe Saturday evening was well danced, as was Julian Hosking's sweet Daphnis at both performances. wWhitten was a spicy Lykanon and Antony Dowson a nasty Dorkon at the matinee; Michael Batchelor's dancing as a calculating, sinister Dorkon at the evening performance was at once purely classical and evilly distorted.