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Jeannette

Ashton's Apparitions - Sarasota Ballet, Mar. 8-9, 2019

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I feel as if I've gone to Ballet Heaven and back, having just witnessed the revival of Sir Frederick Ashton's legendary 1936 ballet APPARITIONS,  performed by the Sarasota Ballet of Florida, USA! A.D. Iain Webb, chief repetiteur Margaret Barbieri and the entire troupe have truly outdone themselves this time, breathing life into a ballet last seen in the late 1980s.  For this eager balletomane, persistence has paid off. After having booked airline, hotel and theatre tickets for a weekend in April 2017, then being told that the production was cancelled to allow more time for proper preparation...APPARITIONS was back on two years later, for March 8-9, 2019. 

 

This fascinating romantic, neo-gothic work, depicts a tormented poet, seeking "L'Amour Supreme" in a drug-induced series of dreams, first to a bright ballrooms where hussars partner ladies in billowing pastel gowns, then to a desolate plain populated by a perky female corps of Belfry Spirits (think Stars from Ashton's Cinderella, with black/white romantic tutus and spiky white wigs), then a red Hades-like cave in which the Poet is tormented by a crimson-caped devilish crew. After the nightmares, our Poet stabs himself to death, whereby he is lifted by purple-clad monks, with his Amour Supreme leading the mourners. In the end, the Poet's lifted figure forms the top of a pyramid, surrounded by a very Nijinska-like grouping. Of course, Nijinska was very much an early inspiration for Ashton. So many echoes of Nijinska in this work!

 

Guest artist Marcelo Gomes *is* The Poet - the role originated by Robert Helpman. What a role it is - on stage almost every moment of the 45-minute work - not only acting and partnering but dancing all-out (pirouettes in both directions, quick leaps, darting arabesques). This is a real tour de force, precisely for someone of Gomes' personality and abilities. His first cast Woman in a Ballgown (the Fonteyn role) was the icily glamorous blonde company prima Victoria Hulland.

 

The  corps has many opportunities to shine - the ballroom scene, the aforementioned Belfry Spirits, the devilish crowd in the cave - and shine they did.

 

Kudos to Ashton repetiteur Grant Coyle for staging the work, with assistance from Ms Barbieri and several others. Ms. Jane Prichard of the Victoria and Albert Museum lent invaluable assistance with materials from the various editions of the ballet (1946 Sadlers Wells, 1949 ROH and 1987 London Festival Ballet, among others). Design and costume staff from the Birmingham Royal Ballet played a big part in making this production happen, so I would not be surprised if (fingers crossed!) England may eventually see it on its shores. It will definitely be worth the long wait.

 

Finally, may I add - how very fitting that this revival was dedicated to the first "L'Amour Supreme" Dame Margot Fonteyn, whose 100th birthday anniversary is being celebrated this year. I've no doubt that Dame Margot is smiling from Ballet Heaven!

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Fabulous! Would have loved to see it and I hope it makes it's way over here soon.

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Having read your review, I am seriously considering a trip to see them some time in the future. 

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Fonty, it’s definitely well worth the trip. Let’s see if APPARITIONS will be programmed for the 2019/20 season...either in the US or the UK. This is too substantial and important a production to be shelved. 

 

In my report, I failed to mention a vital contribution to its success: the excellent sound of the Sarasota Orchestra in the pit, conducted by Ormsby Wilkins. They truly did justice to the Liszt-Jacob score, as arranged by Lambert.

 

Also, kudos to Doug Nicholson of BRB, who oversaw the team that brought to life the gorgeous Beaton designs. Bravo tutti!

 

My only complaint - and I realize that I am overly sensitive on this:  the order of the double bill. Ending the night with the rousing (bombastic?) STARS & STRIPES somewhat stole the thunder from what (to me) should have been the standout ballet, APPARITIONS. But how can S&S be anything but a closer? I get it. That’s why, on the 3rd and final show on Saturday night, I walked out at intermission...to truly savour every step & note of APPARITIONS. No “Yankee Doodle” to eclipse the sublimity of the Ashton.

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Posted (edited)

I recall very little of the ENB revival except that it did not work and that all the critics scrambled around for an explanation for the failure of a work of which they had once clearly thought so highly. As it was a ballet which had Helpmann portraying its central character and a young Fonteyn in the leading female role I assumed that it was the lack of dancers with theatrical gifts similar to those of the original cast which  was the reason for the revival's lack of success. It needed dancers with stage presence and glamour who compel the audience's attention and have the willingness and ability to play the roles as Ashton had created them. Without the right type of dancer there were major gaps at the centre of Apparitions which had nothing to do with the designs or the material used for the costumes. I think that Les Patineurs has a similar problem when it comes to the White Couple whose romantic pas de deux  should be the ballet's centrepiece but today it is rarely anything other than the ballet's low point . The lack of a glamorous couple leaves a hole in the work but because there is so much else of choreographic interest in the work it is merely a disappointment rather than a disaster, with Apparitions the lack of a suitable cast was little short of a disaster.

 

It is good to know that the Sarasota revival worked well. With any luck it will persuade Iain Webb to start work on Foyer de Danse as he has said in interview that he wants to stage it. As far as the Royal Ballet companies are concerned it should make it difficult for the powers that be at the Royal Ballet and the Birmingham Royal Ballet to ignore the revival completely. It might even make  the Ashton Foundation stir itself and do a session on Apparitions at one of its events. I don't know why they have chosen to shift the emphasis of their events from the obscure and rarely performed to repertory pieces. It is not as if there aren't plenty of Ashton ballets that could do with a bit of "rediscovery" because no one has bothered to revive them in years. If the Foundation want to make people think about who Ashton the choreographer was and the range of his output it would run sessions on works like Illuminations, Capriole Suite, Façade, Jazz Calendar and Daphnis and Chloe.

Edited by FLOSS
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I think you’ve hit the nail on the head: the need for extraordinary personalities - plus the right physiques & “aura” - in the two leading roles. Now back in my home, I’m thinking, “What if anybody BUT Marcelo would’ve danced the Poet? I cannot imagine. (Marcelo danced all three performances, subbing for the indisposed Ricardo Graziano at the matinee.) Just thinking...who else is such an enormous charismatic personality, a bit older but still with stellar technique (fleet Ashtonian footwork, quick double tours alternating in direction, expert partnering, etc.)? Maybe Carlos Acosta...a couple of years ago? Who else could do it now?

 

For the Fonteyn role, Hulland certainly brought the glamourous look, pliant back, etc. & 2nd cast Danielle Brown was lovely but...I’m hoping to someday see someone who looks and moves like Fonteyn in the role. Having just seen the Washington Ballet’s amazing Katherine Barkman as Aurora in SB...with her raven hair, porcelain skin, Fonteyn proportions and, especially, use of her EYES just like Fonteyn...excuse me for dreaming a bit.

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One more interesting tidbit from my viewings in Sarasota:

 

Yes, there is a “Fred Step” segment in APPARITIONS. It’s danced by the female lead during her solo in the ballroom. As the troupe’s Marketing head explained to me, Sir Fred added this for Makarova, in the 1987 version. So Dame Margot never danced this particular Fred Step...only Makarova and the two Sarasota ballerinas.

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Posted (edited)

Floss,

 

Your suggestion that the 1987 ENB revival of Apparitions failed because of the lack of dancers with theatrical gifts similar to those of the original cast is a little harsh.  The Woman in Ball Dress was played in the 1987 revival by Natalia Makarova!

Edited by li tai po
My mistake

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33 minutes ago, li tai po said:

Floss,

 

Your suggestion that the 1987 ENB revival of Apparitions failed because of the lack of dancers with theatrical gifts similar to those of the original cast is a little harsh.  The Woman in Ball Dress was played in the 1987 revival by Natalia Makarova!

 

The problem was not dancing talents or acting ability. Hard to state without being unkind. The story demands that the Fonteyn character possess certain classic features. Not that Makarova wasn’t beautiful in her own unique way.

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On 11/03/2019 at 13:05, FLOSS said:

I think that Les Patineurs has a similar problem when it comes to the White Couple whose romantic pas de deux  should be the ballet's centrepiece but today it is rarely anything other than the ballet's low point . The lack of a glamorous couple leaves a hole in the work but because there is so much else of choreographic interest in the work it is merely a disappointment rather than a disaster, with Apparitions the lack of a suitable cast was little short of a disaster.

 

 

I agree.  I really loved the recent performance of Les Patineurs that I saw, but I did feel that the White Couple didn't stand out as much as they should have done.

 

7 hours ago, Jeannette said:

 

The problem was not dancing talents or acting ability. Hard to state without being unkind. The story demands that the Fonteyn character possess certain classic features. Not that Makarova wasn’t beautiful in her own unique way.

 

I never saw Markarova live, but from what I have seen of her on film, I would have said she was as far removed from an Ashton dancer as it is possible to be!  Wasn't she one of the forerunners of the ultra, ultra slow, stop-and-hold style of dancing?

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I did see Makarova and Schaufuss in the  80s 'revival'.  Everything was very exaggerated, even Makarova's frock was much more elaborate than the original design.  I am far too young to have ever seen the original but I knew several people who had and there was this massive wince all round.  The critics were less than complimentary and Jean Bedells who was supposed to be assisting with the revival absolutely insisted  on having her name removed from the credits.

 

Yes, it was that bad.

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Thanks for the fascinating clip of 1987. Funny thing...I don’t recall having seen the very last sequence (ending in hug) at the Sarasota performances. I *do* recall the sequence of lift-throws in which the woman turns in the air. Gomes, throwing Hulland, was far more impressive. Of course, that was actual performance. Maybe Schaufuss was stronger in actual performance.

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