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  1. There are great musicians of the past such as Cortot who entered the recording studio and played as they would in recital and today if they are remembered at all they are remembered for the "Number of wrong notes committed to record in the name of art". Needless to say the knowledge that your legacy could well end up being your mistakes has had a dampening effect on studio recordings. Something similar has happened in the world of classical dance where today with the ubiquitous mobile phone you can never be sure whether or not someone is recording your performance for posterity. The fish dives are part of the western tradition of Sleeping Beauty having made their first appearance in the ballet's grand pas de deux in London in 1921. According to Dolin they were introduced into the text by Vladimirov who had been engaged to dance the Prince. I can't say whether or not they were Vladimirov's invention. All I can say is that a great deal of technical experimentation took place in the aftermath of the Revolution as state institutions adapted to performing to a less sophisticated and knowledgeable audience than they had previously performed for. The Russian version of the ballet remains truer to the original in that respect than western versions are. As an indication of how firmly entrenched the fish dives are in western tradition when Ratmansky staged his Sleeping Beauty for ABT based on the Sergeyev materials he felt obliged to retain them because to western audiences they are an essential part of the text. I have to say I much prefer fish dives where you don't see the mechanics at all just the effect. That is how they used to be done in the dim and distant past by the likes of Sibley and Dowell. But then those dancers worked in a world in which there was much less opportunity for unauthorised recordings than today and the dance aesthetic was governed by the tastes of major choreographers who held to Fokine's ideas about the place of technique in the great scheme of things. Basically it was a world in which technique was a means to an end and never an end in itself in which a technically gifted dancer with little else to offer would be described as a "only a technician". I think that two factors have worked together to produce this deadly dull mechanical effect and lack of apparent spontaneity in performances. The first is the way that today's obsession with perfectly performed classroom steps and enchainements has made its way into theatrical performance and come to dominate what we see in the theatre regardless of whether classroom steps are what the choreographer wanted the audience to see in performance or whether the music has to be significantly slowed down in order to achieve them. In many ways the failure to recognise and observe a clear distinction between classroom and theatre performance has had the effect of reducing far too many performances to displays of dance technique rather than displays of artistry. A second factor is the dancers' knowledge that somewhere in the audience someone is likely to be recording what they are doing and may well post it and that it will then be commented upon by all and sundry which I think must have an impact on what we see in performances. The knowledge that a single section of a performance on a day determined by an unknown recorder may well end up being a # dancer's Aurora or Odette/Odile for all eternity must have some sort of impact on all but the most tough minded of performers and affect their ability to engage in displays of apparent spontaneous artistry.
  2. I am sorry I am not going to condemn the contents of this article or Vaziev's apparent views on the place that tradition has in the Bolshoi's stagings because I don't know how accurately what I have read represents his views or how much of the article is the work of the editor or translator. Is it a verbatim account or a heavily edited one which at points records the gist of what was said ? I ask this because what was obviously going to be the most contentious part of the article as far as a Western readership is concerned seems to be the one area which is the most peremptorily handled when compared with the amount of space allocated to the Bolshoi's need for more stage space on which to perform. Now while there is the possibility that something may have been lost in translation or through overly rigorous editing there are other explanations for its contents. The amount of space allocated to the ballet company's need for another stage suggests that the article is directed as much at a domestic readership as a foreign one and the same I think can be said of the stout defense of Grigorovitch's staging of La Bayadere. History suggests that at the Bolshoi an artistic director who pays due deference to this powerful former director's artistic legacy in the form of his ballet stagings is far more secure in his job and has more room to conduct his artistic experiments than one who appears to criticise or challenge Grigorovitch or his legacy.
  3. At an LBC meeting years ago Anthony Russell Roberts told the audience that there had been discussion about reviving Jazz Calendar but it had been agreed that it was " too old fashioned" to appeal to modern audiences. I think this is a pretty meaningless statement which can safely be translated as, "We did not want to stage it and we think this is a plausible excuse for not doing so ". Sure, it's an episodic piece and it does seem to refer back to the beginning of Ashton's career because of its structure, but like Facade, Jazz Calendar is a highly enjoyable work and no previous knowledge of ballet is needed to be able to enjoy it. Perhaps the problem with both ballets, apart form the fact that we are currently going through a phase where dour earnestness is thought to be the way of proving that ballet is a serious art form, and they are comic works , is that their humour seems natural, completely unforced and not at all contrived. I am afraid I always feel that comedy did not come as easily or naturally to MacMillan as it did to Ashton. As a result Elite Syncopations' humour always seems constipated and contrived to me. The ability to see the funny side of things and turn that into something that is amusing in theatrical terms which bears repeat viewings is a rare gift, even rarer than the gift of apparent spontaneity. While Elite Syncopations was fun when performed by its original cast, even then it did not bear repeat viewings over a short space of time. At that time it had the distinct advantage of being performed by dancers for whom the comic ballet was familiar territory rather an alien one. Today Elite has the same effect on me as a comedian who is trying to get the audience to laugh and putting far too much effort into it. The result is that I am far more aware of the effort than I should be and the jokes barely register. A couple of years ago I went to the Derek Jarman retrospective at the National Film Theatre because it included the film of Jazz Calendar for which he had created the designs. I could see no reason why it would not appeal to audiences today if management could actually get the casting right. Beriosova as Wednesday's Child would be difficult to replace but I think it would be Thursday's Child, in the form of Alexander Grant who ends his travels lying on his side going round in circles on the floor, after strap hanging and flying who would be hardest to replace. After selecting Paul Kay, who alone seems to have a taste and aptitude for such demi-character roles as Thursday's Child for the opening night, who would you allocate to the role in other casts? I recall that Friday's Child used to produce copious pools of sweat on the floor. It is difficult to imagine anyone who would fail to be amused by the fate that befalls the latecomer to the ballet class in Saturday's Child facing a ballet master who must be based on Michael Somes. Now unlike the RB's management I have no fear of appearing frivolous. I think that Fille should at least be a biennial if not an annual feature of the company's repertory. At one time it was programmed that frequently and yet no one ever suggested that it was being done to death. It was something to be eagerly anticipated each year and it provided a simple answer to the question about which ballet to take a child to see as their first ballet. If I had the power to do so I would immediately restore Fille , Facade, A Wedding Bouquet and Jazz Calendar to the company's active repertory on the main stage and programme Capriol Suite in the Linbury. I would also revive The Prospect Before Us and let it run in as well as acquiring Tudor's Gala Performance for the company. I must admit I have never understand why management and critics in general are so dismissive of comic ballets.Comedy is so very difficult to do, let alone do so well that audiences relish revivals. Perhaps the staging of a wider range of repertory including a few successful comic works might encourage a few more choreographers to try their hand at comedy. I can always hope.
  4. While I feel that there will be general rejoicing at the prospect of the company's centennial celebrations culminating in a sort of MacMillanfest I can't help wondering what part the first two directors will be permitted to play during the celebratory season and whether by 2031 the company will, in the absence of special "Ashton classes" based on de Valois 1947 syllabus, be able to dance the sort of works they created. I am pretty certain that the company will choose to emphasise MacMillan's dark challenging works rather than works which reveal his skill as a classical choreographer so I think it is safe to assume that there will be a series of mixed bills which include such dark and challenging "masterpieces" as Different Drummer, Valley of Shadows, Playground, My Brother My Sisters,The Judas Tree and possibly Rituals, which while tedious rather than challenging, brings the list of works up to an even number which may make it a little easier to construct the programmes which include them. There might even be a Marriott retrospective. The Linbury will host performances of dance works such as The Invitation, The Burrow and Checkpoint which work better in a smaller auditorium and of course the festival will culminate with the main stage revival of the full length Isadora. The publicity for the exciting MacMillan revival will probably go something like this :- " The centennial year's MacMillan Festival will culminate with the long awaited revival of the original three act version of his unjustly neglected masterpiece Isadora which was created to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the company's foundation by its sole choreographer of genius". If by 2031 Sir Wayne is in charge of the company then the season will include any number of mixed bills composed of his pretentiously titled one act works. Now while I have not fallen asleep during performances of any of his works I have seen I have to confess I find them , in general, remarkably unmemorable as far as their dance content is concerned. Perhaps I am alone in this but I generally find that I remember more about his work's designs and lighting schemes than the individuality of the movements he has selected for each piece. In fact I tend to find that as soon as I have left the auditorium I have forgotten everything about his choreography. If in 2031 the company is run by Sir Carlos then it is much more difficult to say what we might see during the celebrations except that the programme will almost certainly include his first main stage masterpiece Carmen.
  5. I think that the evening promised more than it delivered but then perhaps my expectations were just too high.The new ballet by Zucchetti is a useful work which allowed a number of the more junior dancers to show what they are capable of doing which is all to the good as, at the very least, it will aid recognition of individual dancers in the future. Surprisingly given current fashion it was well lit. The middle section of the evening's fare , the divertisements was,I think, at one stage being described as representative of work by choreographers who had influenced the development of the company. If that was the original plan it seems to have been abandoned somewhere between the announcement and the performance itself. Given the fact that Kevin mentioned the company's ninetieth anniversary when he opened the evening the pieces chosen seemed more like an eclectic mix of pieces that were readily available than anything else. The divertisement section began with Morgen performed by Hayward and Corrales in which her choreography allowed her to dance while the choreography created for Corrales presented him more as a cross between a contortionist and an old fashioned muscle builder displaying his muscles than an actual dancer. This was followed by the pas de deux from Winter Dreams danced by Morera and Hirano. It is not one of MacMillan's greatest or most inventive bits of choreography. There are sections of it that are so repetitive that they look and feel more like padding to fill out the music than an expression of emotion. Having seen it on the main stage and at Sadler's Wells I think it works better in the smaller auditorium, Needless to say Morera gave it her all but Hirano is nowhere near as responsive as the role's creator Irek Mukhamedov. Stix-Brunell and Clarke danced the final pas de deux from After the Rain very beautifully.The fourth piece was Ek's Woman with Water danced by Magri with the occasional assistance of Bjorneboe Braendsrod and a table. Although it was performed with great gusto by Magri I am not entirely sure how it came to be included in the mix as the only Ek work the company has danced is his Carmen and they did not do that for long. Perhaps it is included because Osipova wanted to dance it? I would think that if the company ever stages Dante Sonata then on the basis of this performance Magri would be ideal in the Pamela May role. The section ended with Ashton's Voices of Spring with O'Sullivan and Sambe which was a bit of a damp squib. I can't put my finger on precisely what the problem was. It certainly was not a case of dancers visibly struggling with the technical side of things but it was an extraordinarily matter of fact, literal account of a piece of choreography originally devised as an entertainment to be performed for an opera audience in the middle of a performance of Die Fledermaus. It might simply be a question of fine tuning the presentation of the choreography and feeling confident enough to play with it and make it sparkle by giving it light and shade. The fact is it did not look right and it did not register in the way you would expect with dancers of that calibre. The evening ended with act three of Sleeping Beauty with Nunez and Muntagirov leading the cast and Hay and Hinkis as the Bluebird and Princess Florine and a somewhat depleted cast. Among other things the reduction in cast size required the Lilac Fairy to walk on without her retinue; the White Cat to make her entry perched on Puss in Boots' shoulder rather than being carried on stage on her usual cushion and Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf to act out their divertisement without the visible representation of the forest. It also deprived us of Bluebeard and his wife and Beauty and the Beast among the identifiable fairy tale guests and reduced the courtiers by about a half. But the most significant thing that was missing was the sense of occasion which a performance of act 3 Sleeping Beauty by SWRB under the name of Aurora's Wedding always managed to generate whatever the circumstances. All in all the performance felt a rather stodgy affair with everyone being just a bit too careful and reined in. In fact the performance felt a bit like the first post Christmas matinee where everyone is being a bit careful because they don't feel quite as fit and performance ready as they were before the Christmas break or quite as fit and performance ready as they will be in a few days time. It was the sort of tentative, cautious account of the choreography in which everyone seems more concerned with not doing anything wrong than with dancing with freedom,imagination,playfulness or apparent spontaneity. I am pleased to have seen thus mixed bill but I don't feel unduly concerned at not being able to see all the casts.
  6. While Kevin has expanded the number of Ashton ballets he will occasionally give stage time to with the unexpected revival of Enigma Variations in 2019 I can't help feeling that given his apparent reluctance to establish any sort of systematic approach to reviving the Ashton repertory it won't be long before the bulk of the choreographer's output including some of his most popular ballets will require rediscovery. Perhaps someone can explain why with the exception of Les Patineurs he does not seem overly keen to revive any of Ashton's prewar works on the main stage? What on earth does he have against Facade and why having dangled the prospect of reviving Apparitions by staging a substantial chunk of it at the Fonteyn Gala hasn't he at least announced that he will programme the whole thing at some point in the not too distant future? I don't want anyone to think that I am criticising the operation of the Ashton Foundation. As a registered charity it can only act to further its declared charitable objectives and it has no control and sadly little influence over the repertory which the RB's director decides to programme. The best it could ever hope to do would be to shame a director into reviving specific long neglected works. But as the Foundation seems to be closely connected with the RB, shaming is not really on the cards. The Foundation's main functions appear to be recording neglected works; training approved Ashton repetiteurs and fostering an interest in ballet in general rather encouraging an interest in Ashton's output. In addition it owns Daphnis and Chloe, is reported to be in the process of acquiring Monotones I and II and Enigma Variations and looks after staging Les Patineura and Les Rendezvous for the RBS which receives the income from staging those two ballets. It has looked at the impact which recent changes in training and the shift to a more athletic aesthetic has had on the repertory as in 2013 it held a Symposium at which there was lengthy discussion but no decision, as far as I can see, on whether there was a need to devise special Ashton classes to prepare dancers to perform his choreography. Given that the Foundation has no obligation to promote Ashton's works and Ashton does not have an active advocate in the way the MacMillan does an Ashton Society could be a useful way of giving him a higher profile than he currently enjoys and perhaps a means in some way of acting as an advocate for his ballets. Interestingly in his review of the Balanchine , Robbins mixed bill Gerald Dowler commented on the dour nature of the opening programme "21st Century Choreographers " and questioned management's neglect of works by de Valois, Ashton and MacMillan. It is clear from what it says about its aims and objectives on its website that the Ashton Foundation was never intended to be the sole answer to the question of how to keep the Ashton repertory alive. It is better than nothing but there seems little point to it if its very existence and the work it does cannot persuade Ashton's home company to allocate at least a guaranteed amount of stage time to his works every season and devise a timetable which ensures that the major works have a regular and guaranteed place in the company's active repertory. Without wishing to sound despondent or unduly worried I think this is something of a pressing need as I don't think that we can assume that BRB will continue to be a safe and secure home for elements of the Ashton repertory. It is not so much the departures from the company that prompt me to say this but the places where some of the joiners were trained which suggest that a less understated performance style may be coming to BRB. Of course as director Acosta is perfectly entitled to develop the company so that its dancers and its repertory reflect his own tastes and aesthetic values. He was hired to make changes after all. But while I am sure that Romeo and Juliet is safe enough I am not so sure that works by the Founder Choreographer or by the Founder herself are as secure as they once were.
  7. I think that looking at the age profile of the female principal dancers makes it rather clear why we start the 2021-22 season with eleven female dancers of that rank . Management knows that the most senior of those dancers are unlikely to be there for many more seasons and whether those dancers end their careers having a planned retirement at the end of a specific season, an enforced one through injury or begin to wind down their careers by gradually dropping the full range of their current repertory is in the lap of the gods. Whatever happens the company will need to have dancers who are ready to take over from their long serving colleagues when the time comes. I am sure that management knows that it is preferable to prepare and plan for this sort of generational change by enabling the successor principals to acquire repertory at a steady pace rather than in a rush. Kevin clearly does not want a repeat of the Polunin incident which it has been suggested was caused in part by him being required to learn a lot of new roles in a very short space of time. Sibley has said that years ago when Fonteyn was the company's leading ballerina she was the only dancer permitted to dance the full range of the classical ballets then in the company's active repertory everyone else was only allowed to dance a limited number of them. My recollection is that the ballets selected for each dancer were ones which played to their artistic strengths and showed them to best advantage. The extent to which this was true only became clear years later when the system broke down and senior dancers began performing a wider range of the repertory. At that point it became clear that some of the dancers would have been wise not to have enlarged their repertory and should have recognised that not every dancer is capable of performing every repertory piece with equal artistic effectiveness. I sometimes wish that repertory restrictions comparable to those of sixty years ago were in place today as they might save us from quite so many lengthy runs of individual ballets. Now while I think that there are always far too many performances of Romeo and Juliet and Nutcracker when they are programmed in an ordinary season I recognise that this season,after so much enforced inactivity, is one in which the Board will expect the company to generate as much income as it can. Given that so many dancers when asked why they chose to join the company express a burning desire to dance MacMillan's ballets and in particular one or other of his dram ballets I fear that it would be virtually impossible to prevent Miss X or Miss Y from giving us her Juliet or Mr Z from giving us his Romeo without dire consequences for the company's artistic health. Sadly today it would be all but impossible for management to restrict the repertory of most principal dancers unless a right's owner did not want them in a particular role. The result is that it is all but impossible to escape from the mono-programming of unbroken blocks of one or other of MacMillan's cash cows or the Petipa ones. When it comes to guesting I somehow think that any company which wished to retain the services of dancers of the calibre of Muntagirov and Nunez would find it almost impossible to do so without permitting them to guest with other companies. Guesting for those who wish to do so is part of the world of ballet today. I seem to recall it being suggested that one of the reasons for Muntagirov's move to Covent Garden was that the new management at ENB was less liberal in its attitude towards him guesting than its predecessor had been. I think we need to recognise that the fact that some eminent dancers choose to guest with other companies raises the profile of the RB and actually enables more junior dancers to appear in leading roles at a much earlier stage in their careers than would be possible if everyone was tied to Covent Garden throughout the season. In the absence of a second company where dancers can learn their trade in relative obscurity the performance opportunities provided by the absence of senior dancers actually benefits the company by ensuring that not every dancer is trapped by their company ranking. As far as the two productions of Romeo and Juliet are concerned they do have minor differences most of which are connected with the adaptations made to the main company's production when the Royal Opera House was being redeveloped and the company was appearing at the Festival Hall. BRB actually retains more of the stage detail for example Juliet's bedroom still has its prie dieu and the modifications which were made were authorised by MacMillan and intended to make the work easier to tour. The changes made to the main company's production have not been reversed now it is back performing on its home stage. It is as if Lady M. has not noticed that the changes made to the sets to enable the ballet to be performed on the South Bank have reduced the emotional impact of the ballet at key points of the action or make a nonsense of it. Here are the most obvious obvious examples of the changes which have not been reversed. Juliet now enters the stage at the beginning the Balcony pas de deux by coming down the well lit central stairs when she used to come down the less well lit stairs at the side of the balcony. That entrance from the side somehow prevented the audience from asking why Romeo does not simply follow her at the end of the pas de deux rather than doing all that yearning at the end of the scene. Another change relates to the loss of the window in Juliet's bedroom. In the original staging Romeo used to leave his wife through a very visible window. In its absence Juliet's frantic dash across the stage during the course of her second pas de deux with Paris has lost its emotional impact because it is no longer clear what she is threatening to do. In the absence of a visible window there is no evidence of her desperation because it no longer involves the threat of suicide. In the tomb scene the solemn candle lit procession does not work as it once did because the procession does not apparently enter from the top of the set. Another problem is that the body of Tybalt seems to have disappeared. Originally Tybalt was laid out on a slab and when Juliet woke from her drugged sleep she used to back towards the slab, bang into it and recoil in horror. It is a bit of stage business intended to remind the audience of the play text in which she describes the horrors that await her in the family tomb. In this it is comparable to the holy palmer's greeting in the pas de deux which Romeo and Juliet dance during the first act before his identity is revealed. Today in the tomb Juliet still walks backwards and recoils in horror at Tybalt's non existent tomb which was removed for purely pragmatic reasons and has not been restored. Minor losses but like some of the changes imposed on Ashton's ballets through redesigns changes which make the choreographer look less than competent. As far as the casting is concerned some of the casts are tempting others less so and a few are definitely no go areas. It is good to have plenty of time to think about minor details such as seat prices. When the annual financial report for the 2019-20 season was published I was amazed by how much the marketing department costs to run. If I was looking to save the ROH some money that would be the first place I would make cuts because it seems so useless at its basic function. I should be very interested to see whether their knowledge of their audience was any batter than their knowledge of the repertory and how to publicise it. Perhaps someone working in that department should invest in a Thesaurus as I think that they have rather overworked the word "excited".
  8. The current production was staged in 2004 during the Ashton centenary celebrations and last seen in 2011. Its designs are undistinguished. The costume designs give Cinderella very pretty becoming rags while the Stepsisters have costumes with such loud and coarse designs that anyone staging a pantomime in the would baulk at them. Sadly Wayne Sleep and Anthony Dowell who appeared as the Stepsisters in 2004 lived up to their costumes and gave the broadest and coarsest accounts of their roles that I have ever seen. Whether they were encouraged in this by Wendy Ellis-Somes is unclear but she did not discourage such broad playing at subsequent revivals. She seems obsessed with the idea that the sisters are essentially characters derived from the pantomime tradition. Perhaps she does not know that using men to play older women is a much older theatrical tradition than that of the nineteenth century pantomime. The performances in 2004 suggested that the stager was more interested in broad pantomime slapstick than the characters depicted in the distinctive choreography Ashton gave each of them. I know that it is usually said that Ashton rather skimped on the choreography for the Stepsisters and relied over much on the ability of Helpmann and himself to improvise their roles. I think that there is enough in the style of choreography each is given to establish their characters and that as with many other ballets he created it contains both in-jokes and references to characters which the 1948 audience would have recognised immediately. At the time he wrote the score Prokofiev was required to stick very closely to the classical tradition. He does that but he also manages to allude to his more avant garde past to spice the whole thing up. I think that Ashton was doing much the same thing with his choreography which is an extraordinary eclectic mixture of pure Petipa style classicism; character portraits based on a basic knowledge of ballet history; material derived from the popular musical theatre and in-joke allusions to people working in the theatre in the late forties. The quiet, down trodden, forgetful sister originally played by Ashton reveals her timidity by her quiet understated dance vocabulary which looks as if it is based on steps used in ballet in the eighteenth century. The forgetfulness suggests that he is alluding to Andre Howard who was, as I understand it, quite well known for forgetting the choreography she had just created but it might equally be a reference to a problem which is said to befall many dance makers in the heat of creation. The dominant sister is big and bossy and aspires to be a great Petipa ballerina. Her trick with the necklace, which rarely comes off these days, is based on what Bea Lillie did on stage. I think we are expected to see it as further evidence of the type of person she is. The short and tall partners had been part of the ballet from the beginning but they only achieved their current identities as Napoleon and Wellington in the production staged in 1965 where it their identities were intended as a reference to the theft of the Goya portrait of the Duke which had occurred in 1961. As far as I am concerned I would restore them to the anonymity they originally enjoyed as that would enable us to lose the unfunny toupee joke which must have originated at some point in a stage accident and has no place in an Ashton ballet. I think that the problem with the Bintley version is one that besets pretty much every choreographer who encountered the Ashton version in their impressionable youth. They spend so much time avoiding Ashton that they fail to do justice to the score. I have some sympathy with them as there are so much of the choreography seems inevitable.
  9. It is a classic example of conservative programming which is intended to generate income and deal with a number of problems caused by the unavoidable cancellation of two major world premieres and a number of key debuts during the 2020-21 season. Of course the company had to stage those new full length works and keep the promises about career development which it made to its dancers a couple of seasons ago. I can understand why this particular selection of full length works is being programmed. It was so obvious that it probably did not seem to require much thought to draw it up . But that is its weakness. After the best part of eighteen months during which audiences have been without live ballet performances isn't the season just a bit too heavy? Does the entire season have to be quite so unremittingly serious? Perhaps it is a flaw in my character but I can't help thinking that many of us would have benefited from a little frivolity built into the programme at strategic points during the season as I think that we can all agree that it is unlikely that either of the new works,the Dante Project or Like Water for Chocolate, will provide much in the way of light entertainment. However while I accept that this season is one in which the company may be required to do considerably more than merely break even I do question whether we really needed 31 performances of Nutcracker ? Surely at Christmas we could have been permitted something else relatively safe as an alternative option to the ubiquitous Nutcracker such as eight performances of Fille or Coppelia or an equally lighthearted and entertaining Ashton mixed bill of say Les Patineurs, A Wedding Bouquet and Facade? At present, to me at least, the programme seems far too unremittingly weighty and earnest.
  10. Not jealous at all. We are getting Giselle this autumn with, I would suggest, the very strong possibility that Manon will be programmed in the early part of the 2022-23 season. As far as the split run of Romeo and Juliet is concerned perhaps someone has finally realised that week after week devoted to an unbroken run of performances of Romeo and Juliet is not the best way to maintain high technical standards throughout the company as so few dancers actually get to perform classically based choreography during such a run. Developing an interesting back story may be great fun but it is no substitute for dancing exposed classically based choreography. The number of performances devoted to this one ballet seems more than a little excessive to me as it suggests that pretty much everyone in the top two tiers of the company will be giving us her Juliet and his Romeo. While I am pleased to see an all Ashton mixed bill which includes Scenes de Ballet and does not include Marguerite and Armand, I can't help thinking that Kevin could afford to be a little more adventurous in his selection. There are ballets spanning the best part of fifty years to choose from and while I don't expect to see works like Capriole Suite or Foyer de Danse on the main stage I should like the opportunity to see them in full at some point in the not too distant future. Also I can't help thinking that if we really were respecting the past rather than paying lip service to respecting it we would be offered the opportunity to see one of his two or three act ballets each season.
  11. Watching the current mixed bill did nothing to dispel the general sense of gloom generated by the rain and cold we are currently enduring. Perhaps if the weather were a little more like what is usual for late late May I might feel a bit more positive about the first dance programme of this truncated season but I somehow doubt it. As far as I am concerned Within the Golden Hour is badly overexposed. It is a bit like Wright's Summertide in that it gets a reasonable number of company members on stage and then fails to much of interest with them. I accept that it is completely inoffensive and quite useful when putting together a mixed bill of recently created works but what it fails to do, however fine the cast, is to capture my imagination or reveal greater depths with repeat viewing. The Abrahams work is an attempt to capture the dynamics of a dysfunctional family in dance and all I can say of it is he is no Tudor when it comes to establishing and communicating emotional states in dance form. I wish I could be more enthusiastic about the two works by Crystal Pite as I really liked her Flight Patterns but for me The Statement seems little more than an expressionist cartoon while the final work seems to involve a great deal of rolling around on the floor for no apparent reason. The fact that there seemed to be little connection between the movement and the music to which it was set did not help. Now I don't want to sound too negative about this mixed bill but the thought that this programme might indeed represent the future that Kevin plans for the company may please critics like Lyndsay Winship but it does not do a lot for me. In fact it makes me feel more than a little despondent. It is almost as if Kevin has decided to reverse the company's direction of travel established by Ashton immediately after the war when he wrenched the company away from the Helpmannesque expressionist works it had been performing and forced it to convert to classicism and embrace classically based dance as its route to the future. I had thought that Wheeldon and Scarlett had managed to establish the idea that classically based dance far from being redundant was alive and well if only you had choreographers who were imaginative, musical and were capable of expressing themselves fluently using a classically based vocabulary.
  12. My recollection is that pretty much everyone was dissatisfied with the original designs for Rhapsody but the subsequent history of the designs created for it suggests some uncertainty about what should replace them. As Ashton's nephew owns the ballet the uncertainty is all his and I have some sympathy for him. Finding designs which support the dancers rather than diverting attention from them or reducing their visibility and presence has proved surprisingly difficult. The first replacements were the bright Bauhaus inspired Caulfield ones which got in the way of the performance by drawing far too much attention to themselves were no improvement on the original designs. Then the Curtiss ones went to the other extreme and were far too pastel, self- effacing and apologetic. I seem to recall that the designs by Jessica Curtiss were in turn replaced in 2012 by ones which are a little more assertive and owe a great deal to the original designs created for the ballet. In fact I think we were told at that point that although the costumes for the original production had been credited to William Chappell they were to all intents and purposes by Ashton himself as Chappell had proved incapable of producing any designs because of his age. It will be interesting to see which designs are used in Paris. I hope that we now have an authorised final version.
  13. In my opinion it is merely an exercise in cost cutting which shifts the cost of producing evidence of purchase onto the punter.
  14. I don't know how many people invested in the all Ashton programme which Sarasota Ballet have been streaming. I will simply say that while the company's programming policy clearly sets it apart from other American companies and gives it a unique identity and selling point the work the Webbs are doing is clearly a labour of love. It proves once again that the fact that a work has been neglected for years is rarely a reflection on its quality or effectiveness as a piece of choreography. A mixed bill of Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, last seen in London thirty years ago,The Walk to the Paradise Garden only performed a handful of times in the 1970's and the once hardy perennial Facade which remarkably was last seen at Covent Garden in the 1980's. It is sad to think that the work of the Frederick Ashton Foundation is having so little effect on the programming policy at Covent Garden. The mixed bill opened with Valses Nobles et Sentimentales, music which Ashton had used a decade earlier in a work for Rambert called Valentine's Eve which had a clear narrative about a coquette, a lovelorn poet and a love token. This later ballet using the same music was made for the second company and is essentially an abstract work in which the relationship between the dancers is elusive and only ever hinted at. Its real subject seems to be the ecole de danse and so it seems to fall squarely into the type of work Ashton had advocated in an article about ballet written immediately after the war as an artistic riposte to the expressionist works which Helpmann had been staging for the Sadler's Wells Company. It is very interesting to see how very classical and Cechetti inspired Ashton's surviving works from this period are. So many dance themes and choreographic ideas turn up in this work which will be seen in later works such as Daphnis and Chloe and La Valse. I do hope that Kevin reinstates the Ashton triple bill which was due to be shown in the Linbury last year as I would love to see Valses Nobles again. As with so many of Ashton's work it bears repeat viewing. The second ballet The Walk to the Paradise Garden was, as far as I am aware, only ever danced by its original cast during Ashton's lifetime and then only on a handful of occasions. It is a wonderful ballet and when it was seen in London it was only ever danced by David Wall and Merle Park who had the advantage of being in a ballet created on them. In addition Wall had the advantage of having a much smaller and more manageable partner in Park than we saw in this performance. This probably goes a long way to explain the care with which the choreography was executed and the lack of apparent spontaneity in the performance as a whole which is a shame as it makes the difficult bits stand out in a way that was never intended. Ashton used technically tricky elements in his choreography but never intended that they should draw attention to themselves or to the dancers' skills. None of the Bolshoi lifts should register as anything other than expressions of the couple's emotional state. The choreography is tricky but neither in this ballet nor in Voices of Spring nor Raymonda pas de deux should the audience be aware of the technical challenges or anything remotely resembling earnest effort on the part of the performers. I am extremely pleased to have seen the work again and would love to see it at Covent Garden with say Hayward and Bracewell. Finally we had what I would once have described as that "hardy perennial " Facade. But can I really call it that when it has not been seen at Covent Garden in decades ? Perhaps someone can explain what the powers that be at the Royal Ballet have against this particular Ashton ballet. Is the problem its age as it still works when it is put in front of an audience? Is the problem that the work is frivolous and amusing and management is suffering from a bad case of earnestness or is it something else? I find the neglect of Facade most perplexing as it is, in my experience,virtually fail proof as it can even withstand a certain amount of less than ideal casting. If the choreography is deemed insufficiently challenging for today's dancers then perhaps management should consider reinstating the original ending to the Polka Girl's solo which Markova said ended with a double tour en l'air when she danced it. I will simply say that it is good to know that there is at least one company in the world that takes Ashton sufficiently seriously to stage a wide range of his output. It makes the mere handful of Ashton works which the Royal Ballet permit us to see seem more meagre and the selection even more uninspired than it usually does.
  15. After apparently overlooking the Fonteyn centenary in 2019 and remedying the oversight by adding a gala in her honour somewhat late in the day perhaps Kevin has become a little more aware of the company's significant anniversaries. Perhaps he has appointed one of the more historically aware members of staff on the admin side to remind him about them as they arise or perhaps he got someone to draw up a list of them to avoid further embarrassment. Well whether the choice of repertory is the result of the desire to mark significant anniversaries or merely a matter of chance Kevin has managed with the two of the ballets he has announced to suggest that he is acknowledging the company's ninetieth anniversary and the centenary of the first London staging of the Sleeping Beauty the ballet which has played a significant part in the history and long term development of the company and its international standing. Perhaps staging what to all intents and purposes is Aurora's Wedding is more appropriate than performing the whole ballet since it is a reminder of the important part that Diaghilev played in creating a real interest in ballet in this country which made audiences far more receptive to the early efforts of Rambert and de Valois and willing and eager to support them. I wonder what state the company's twentieth century repertory will be in when it comes to celebrating the centenary and how much of it will be left given the limited range of works from it which we are permitted to see with anything approaching regularity. I don't think that denying the Ashton two and three act ballets a regular place in the seasonal turnover of repertory helps maintain his performance style when the company is dancing so many works which seem to rely on asymmetry and displays of extreme energy for their effect. While the label "Heritage Works" suggests that the ballets in question are old fashioned and irrelevant and only merit revival on special occasions such as significant anniversaries. Then if they fail to make much of an impression their past neglect will be justified as will their further long term neglect . The problem with the beneficial neglect approach is that works which lie unperformed for any length of time wither and die and the works to which this policy is being applied include a significant number of major works by the great choreographers of the last century. They are works which should be part of the company's active repertory even if that means they only see the light of day every five or six years because dancers need the opportunity to dance in them more than once in their careers and audiences have the right to see them.
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