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  1. 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".
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. In my opinion it is merely an exercise in cost cutting which shifts the cost of producing evidence of purchase onto the punter.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. I wouldn't get too excited about seeing Cuthbertson as Aurora or anyone else among the principal dancers in the final mixed bill. We are only getting act 3 of Sleeping Beauty not the entire ballet. With any luck management will use these performances as an opportunity to try out some of the younger dancers in roles they must covet. As far as the divertisements are concerned I sincerely hope that we are spared Voices of Spring as everyone who dances it now is far too earnest about it and completely fails to recognise it as a tongue in cheek homage to soviet style exhibitions of dance like Spring Waters. I should like to think that we will be given the opportunity to see some of Ashton's less frequently performed gala pieces such as the Thais pas de deux; Raymonda pas de deux; Varii Caprici and The Walk to the Paradise Garden. I would be quite happy to see the Awakening pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty once again and his Pas de Quatre from Swan Lake. As far as Clemenza is concerned the fact that Kaneko has been cast suggests that the new production will include Berenice's departure from Rome something which is not essential to a successful staging of the opera but was included in the 1974 production.
  11. I can remember many years ago reading in a ballet programme words to the effect that the original designs for the Sleeping Beauty had been a problem from the outset because they were devised by an aristocratic amateur and so lacked any sort of unifying artistic style adding that fortunately they were soon replaced by designs which had real artistic merit. It is those improved designs and subsequent redesigns which have made the link between the ballet's narrative and the act three fairy tale characters more and more tenuous. All but severing the link as the action of the ballet was moved back in time in one production to medieval ballet-.land and then forward to the reign Louis XV and even later in others. Successive redesigns have had the effect of removing all the fairy tale characters from their original intended cultural and theatrical context. This effect I suspect is most problematical for the characters who have no divertisement assigned to them and only dance in the polonaise and mazurka. The choice of characters seems to be arbitrary as there is no obvious reason for their presence other than as stage dressing and if they are only moving scenery why choose one character in preference to another?. In order to put these characters into a theatrical context we have to forget the brothers Grimm and their versions of the tales with which we are familiar. Restore the ballet to its original setting with a third act set in the gardens of Versailles at the time of the Sun King himself which is where and when the Mariinsky reconstruction sets it in accordance with the original designs and the presence of these fairy tale characters seems far less arbitrary. I know that Scholl can find no political message concealed in the Sleeping Beauty but Alexandre Benois seemed to think that there was more to the ballet than a simple entertainment or fairy ballet. I don't think it is chance that led Petipa to populate the last act with these characters who were never intended to have their own variations. In a final act which as originally staged had an apotheosis in which Louis XIV descend in the guise of the god Apollo to bless the bridal couple it makes perfect sense that two art forms associated with him are on display during the course of a performance. The first is dance itself with whose development, in the form of ballet, the king was closely involved the second is literature. The literary form in question is the fairy tale. The fairy tale characters who appear on stage in productions based on the 1890 original or the Vic-Wells 1939 staging have one thing in common they are all to be found in the fairy tales written by either Charles Perrault or Madame d'Aulnoy who were the greatest exponents of the genre. Essentially much of the last act is devoted to celebrating the cultural flowering which was made possible by the peace and order which Louis XIV had imposed on his kingdom. Extolling the benefits of orderly government and ,by implication,autocracy past and present no doubt appealed to Alexander III. Swan Lake question. I have a funny feeling that questions about the precise point at which the act 2 swans are restored to their human form and when they are forced to return to being swans might have been easier to determine before Fokine's Dying Swan than it has been since. I doubt that many dancers in those early years were tempted into doing bird imitations and emulating swans. When a few years back Ratmansky staged a reconstruction of Swan Lake based on the Stepanov notations for both La Scala and Zurich the costume designs he used made clear the dual nature of the swans by giving them not only the usual white head coverings but a plait much like the one worn by the Tsar Maiden in the Little Humpbacked Horse. As his design choices usually reflect the style of those used in early stagings of the ballet he is working on I imagine that he has stuck closely to the early designs in this case as well. Of course costume designs do not tell you when the dancers are in human form and when they are swans. I suspect that this is one of those ballets in which the wisdom of generations of coaches working in the same local tradition is what really counts. Remember that Fonteyn was insistent that Odette is a woman and never a swan. Something which she presumably learnt through the usual train of transmission from Ivanov and Petipa to N. Sergeyev and then either directly or indirectly to her. I think that the traditional choreography gives you some clues as to when Odette is seen as a human being and when we see her as a swan By the time Odette speaks to Siegfried and tells him of her plight she must have been restored to human form The point at which she is forced to resume her swan form is particularly obvious. As far as the corps de ballet are concerned I am not sure that their form is so clear nor that it needs to be. I think that the ambiguity of their nature and form is deliberate. If Ivanov did not have to show the bulk of swans as entirely human at various points during the second act that gave him far greater freedom over the type of choreography he could create for the corps in the white acts act producing two theatrically desirable outcomes. First the acts which feature the bewitched swan maidens stand in sharp contrast to those which don't. Their acts have choreography which is softer and clearly inspired by the older French school while acts 1 and 3 contain Italian inspired steps and involve those unaffected by Von Rothbart's magic. In addition by giving the corps a somewhat ambiguous form in act 2 Ivanov had the opportunity to emphasis Odette's plight even when she is in human form. I also have to add that recent alterations to the second act which deprive Siegfried of his attendant courtiers leaving him to take aim at the flock of swans after Odette has told him about herself makes little sense. The traditional version in which Siegfried intervenes to stop his fellow huntsmen slaughtering the swans which have settled in front if them followed by Odette's second section of mime in which she claims the swans as hers makes far more sense. It also suggests that the flock are still in bird form at that point. For those who lose sleep at night over the question of when the corps are and are not swans in the second act could always invest in a copy of Cyril Beaumont's book on Swan Lake.
  12. Opus Arte have just reissued the 1968 recording of Ashton's Cinderella on DVD. From the comments made on Amazon it does not sound as if the tape has been restored which is a pity but should not deter anyone from buying a copy as the cast involved is a vintage one from the company's 1960's "golden age". Its great selling point is that everyone who appears in it is completely familiar with Ashton's choreography his aesthetic and his style,which means they dance their roles in a completely idiomatic manner. On a big occasion such as this broadcast Ashton would have been involved in coaching the leading dancers, ensuring that they and his choreographic set pieces were seen to best advantage. The recording gives the viewer Sibley and Dowell as Cinderella and her Prince; Ashton and Helpmann as the Stepsisters; Leslie Edwards as the Father;Alexander Grant as the Jester in a performance which makes it clear that he is a character rather than the leg machine which subsequent changes of costume and make up have made him and Georgina Parkinson as the Fairy Godmother who is transformed from beggar into fairy on stage and whose entourage of season fairies give their variations real character. If I remember correctly, it also includes Christopher Carr as the Dancing Master with Dereck Rencher and Wayne Sleep as the sisters' partners in the ballroom scene. In fact it gives the viewer an entire cast who had the great advantage over most casts seen this century of being able to dance the choreography with apparent ease and at the right speed. No one involved in this performance mistakes apparent simplicity for lack of content or lack of character and no one makes a big thing about technical challenges when they arise. In short it is a performance in which the ballet is danced rather than one in which the steps are done or technique displayed.
  13. I believe that Pappano's current contract with the Royal Opera runs until 2024 but the chances are that we may see quite a bit less of him in the pit over the next three years. I am sure there will be people who will disagree with me but I think that a tenure of more than fifteen years is too long for any music director and that one of more than twenty years is excessive as even the most gifted and innovative of music directors will eventually become stale. I should be very interested to know what you think his most significant contribution to the Royal Opera has been, how his time as music director will be judged in the context of the undoubted contributions made by those who preceded him and what you think will be seen as his lasting artistic legacy to the organisation ?
  14. The Garland Dance performed on the recording made in 1959 is not one that I have seen in the theatre so I don't think that I am in a position to say how accurately the recording reflects the choreography which the company was performing in the theatre in the late fifties or what it might have looked like in the theatre. As far as I know Ashton was responsible for adapting the ballet for television so he decided what to cut and what to preserve for a broadcast whose main purpose was not to reveal the choreographic wonders of The Sleeping Beauty but to make Fonteyn's Aurora available to as large an audience as possible. I think it unlikely that he would have created a new version for the broadcast. As far as this Garland Dance is concerned it is unfortunate that the positioning of the cameras means we do not have an unobstructed view of it as it begins. Instead we are forced to peep at a couple of dancers who are clearly on the periphery of the dance from behind the backs of a couple of courtiers. Sadly we cannot be sure that we ever see the waltz as you might have hoped to see it in the theatre. The Opera House's record of the company's ballet productions, performances and the changes to the choreographic text is only of limited assistance in tracking the story of Ashton's Garland Dances. When it comes to following an individual choreographer's work on a production which was revived over several decades, the information that a specific section of the text was created by a particular choreographer may tell you everything you need to know about it or it may tell you very little because unless you know what changes were made to a section of choreography in a particular season and whether they were retained or dropped you may be unaware that a choreographer has been tinkering with his own work or has restored a version he made earlier on in his career. The other complicating factor is that unless it is made clear you may think that the version you first encounter is the first one the choreographer made. Here for what it is worth are the results of my researches about Ashton's Garland Dances. Ashton made three versions of the Garland Dance, one for Peter Wright's 1968 production of the ballet using a mixed corps and two made for earlier productions using an all female corps. According to David Vaughan Ashton's first all female Garland Dance was created during the war to deal with the loss of male dancers to conscription. This is the version which resurfaced in the production de Valois staged for the company in 1977. It can be seen in the 1978 recording of the ballet. While Madam said that her staging was based on Nikolai Sergeyev's 1939 production for the company it might have been more accurate to say it was based on the revised version of that production. The Garland Dance in the 1959 recording would therefore seem to be Ashton's second thoughts on the dance. As far as his third version is concerned I saw it in my very early days of ballet going but I remember nothing about it which might be because according to Vaughan it was staged as background action to the Princes' entrance or it might be that I was not that interested in the corps de ballet at that time. We are told that the tape on which the first part of the 1968 production was recorded was later wiped so it is unlikely that we shall ever know what it looked like. Sadly unlike its quest for missing episodes of Dr Who the BBC has shown no interest in trying to find out whether anyone has a recording of the missing sections of the ballet.
  15. Florestan and his Sisters made their first stage appearance in the 1921 London production of The Sleeping Beauty which , on advice, Diaghilev called The Sleeping Princess to avoid the ballet being confused with the popular pantomime of the same name. According to Dyenely Hussey's account of Tchaikovsky's score for the ballet in 1921 Diaghilev replaced the Jewel Fairies with this pas de trois because he though that by the third act of the ballet the audience might well feel that they had seen too many fairies. Diaghilev could have been right about this because he had added a seventh fairy to the usual six Prologue Fairies. Although he had cast Lopokova as the Lilac Fairy he thought that the waltz written for that character needed a dancer who was taller than she was He therefore decided that Lopokova should dance to the music for the Sugar Plum Fairy while Tchernicheva danced to the waltz written for the Lilac Fairy. Of course no one would be able to get away with tinkering with the score and the choreography in that manner today as the music is so well known. But you have to remember that 1921 was the first occasion on which the full ballet had been seen in the West. The audience did not know the ballet. They were unlikely to be familiar with Tchaikovsky's score as the composer was not that highly regarded at that time. Diaghilev presented the ballet with a modern twist. Stravinsky was hired to re-orchestrate the score and Nijinska to provide new choreography when needed. As far as the Three Ivans are concerned Diaghilev felt the production needed to display its Ballet Russes credentials so the coda of the grand pas de deux was allocated to three new characters whose Russian origins were beyond dispute because of their names and the style in which they danced. The 1946 staging of The Sleeping Beauty was, I think, intended to establish the fifteen year old company's right to be resident at Covent Garden. By departing from the text used in its 1939 staging and adopting some of the changes incorporated into the London staging of the ballet seen some twenty five years before, the Sadler's Wells Company was not just laying claim to the right to be acknowledged as part of the Russian Imperial and Ballet Russes traditions it was also creating an instant and enduring tradition and establishing its artistic identity as a classical ballet company. The opulence of the staging was intended to evoke not only the ballet's nineteenth century origins but to withstand comparison with memories of the earlier Diaghilev production in London. The 1946 staging included the Three Ivans and a pas de trois in place of the Jewel Fairies. But in the 1946 production Ashton's Florestan and his Sisters was a display piece for its cast rather than an antidote to a surfeit of fairies. On opening night it was danced by Michael Somes, Moira Shearer and Gerd Larsen. The 1946 staging included at least one further major change to the text which the company had danced in 1939 and that was a change made from necessity. In 1939 Sergeyev had staged a waltz for the company for a cast of twelve male and twelve female dancers. By 1946 the fact that the waltz had a mixed cast was causing practical problems. According to Joy Newton who was Ballet Mistress at the time as soon as a group of men became useful in the waltz they would disappear into the armed forces. As the company was far less international in those days and a significant part of the company were British born conscription would continue to be a challenge for the company's management and the careers of its male dancers until it was abandoned in 1963. Ashton's solution to this problem was to create a waltz for an entirely female cast. Ashton choreographed at least two all female waltzes for the company. Those who saw both of them say that they preferred the 1946 waltz.
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