Posted 24 December 2003 - 11:07 AM
Did anyone else go? What did you think?
Posted 28 December 2003 - 03:42 PM
Posted 01 January 2004 - 11:14 AM
The steps are all there, but the details which gave them their particular flavour; the sharp turns of the head, the backbends, the flicks of the wrist, are hinted at rather than done with any conviction. The season fairies too, seemed to be performing a series of steps (well enough for the most part) rather than a variation which has a form and an individual style.
Taste is a very individual thing, I know. Personally I found Toer van Schayk's decors for the ballroom and the apotheosis sober and handsome. His "kitchen" has some imaginative details, but it doesn't make architectural or stylistic sense. However, the decors have little to do with Christine Haworth's costumes which to me, looked as if they had come from a child's dressing up box. Shiny, glittery fabrics, insipid (multi-)colours and the kind of tutu which is as flat as a plate, reveals an expanse of frilly posterier and is paired with cutlet frills round the biceps.
The courtiers in the ballroom scene wear a rather fancy version of mid-18th century dress, complete with white wigs. The flapping coats and paniered skirts almost obscured the dancing. The Prince's four friends however, clearly can't afford coats as they appear in waistcoats and (satin) shirt sleeves.
Alina Cojacaru and Johan Kobborg danced the official premiere with Anthony Dowell and Wayne Sleep as the Sisters.
Cojacaru was lovely at the moments when it's sufficient to give a lovely ballerina performance. What was missing for me was the wit and fun of the role in the first Act and the dreamy mystery of the later scenes. Her footwork isn't quite clean enough for some of the choreography, and she seemed to me to be lagging behind the music at times. Miyako Yoshida in a later performance was a sweet Cinderella, musical and precise, but again without finding any depth to the character.
The Prince (no name) is a pretty thankless role. All he has to do is look handsome and wisful and ardent by turns, partner beautifully and perform his one variation. Kobberg did this as efficiently as you would imagine, but it's not the thing he does best. Yoshida was partnered by yet another of the Royal Ballet's new recruits, Federico Bonelli. He seems to be a nice clean dancer, but he didn't give much hint as to personality.
One thing which seems to have been expunged completely is the relationship between the Prince and the Jester which was always a significant element in early productions. It began to be overlooked from the time that Tetsuyo Kumakawa took over the role, but now it's completely gone and the character is well on the way to becoming a Soviet-style irritant. He also has quite the worst costume, including a hat like a scarlet motorcyle helmet. Jose Martin did the steps especially well I thought.
As to the Sisters. I thought Wayne Sleep had the beginnings of an interpretation. Dowell I really disliked; cold, spiteful, almost malevolant; nothing like Helpmann who played the role as an egotistical monster. Cruelty was accidental rather than deliberate. Thiago Soares in that role began to be interesting in the second Act with an individual take on the character, and I thought he worked well with Tim Matiakis in the Ashton part.
Incidentally, the Bonaparte/Wellington quartet in the ballroom scene has now become so vulgar as hardly to be borne. Off-colour jokes which can be permitted to a pair of elderly theatrical geniuses are best left to them.
When I was leaving the theatre after the official first night I found myself standing in the cloakroom queue behind one of the company's former stars, long since retired. Someone asked how he had found the performance; "not as bad as I expected" was the answer. Quite.
PS A friend who was at the ballet's premiere in 1948 insists that every single role was better danced then than it was this time around.
Posted 01 January 2004 - 11:42 AM
Posted 04 January 2004 - 10:20 AM
I would guess the majority of the audience have found these performances enjoyable. It's been put on as a Christmas Show, at prices higher than have ever been charged for regular ballet evenings, and my feeling is that the bulk of the audience has come out to have a pleasant (and expensive) Christmas treat. And that's what they've had.
Of course there are regular ballet goers with genuine interest and knowledge, but far, far, fewer than say twenty or thirty years ago. High prices and a Royal Ballet repertory which largely consists of the Petipa/Tchaikovsky classics or MacMillan's full-length works are just some of the factors.
My feeling is that if Ashton's ballet's survive in a form that he would recognise and approve, it won't be through the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden. I can't see any signs that they really appreciate his achievement. "A prophet goes without honour in his own country....etc". One only has to look at how his ballets have been re-designed without any feeling for the effect he originally chose. Nor does there seem to be a great deal of interest in calling on the memories of those still around who created the roles or who were coached in them by Ashton (or in the case of de Valois by her), outside a rather small group.
Part of the problem lies with the way the ballets were left to individuals, many of whom are now dead and have in turn passed them on. There was talk some years ago of setting up an Ashton Foundation on the lines of the Balanchine foundation. That died an early death largely, I believe, because of individual interests. And the person to whom the bulk of the ballets were left went on record some years ago, saying the majority of those not currently in the repertoire were lost for good.
Not very long after that Birmingham Royal Ballet managed to revive what seems to be a very accurate production of Dante Sonata, one of those ballets "lost forever". But the chances to repeating that exercise grow smaller as time goes by and people get older.
Should the ballets continue to be performed, even in bastardised versions? I guess on balance the answer is yes, even though they don't give a true picture of Ashton's genius. There's always the hope that someone, one day, will try to return to the original and the ballets will emerge cleaned up, like a painting with at least some of the original brushwork showing.
As an afterword, I'd like to say that's it's rather depressing to go around saying "It's not right, it's not well-enough danced" when so many people think everything at the Garden is lovely. You begin to wonder if it's a sign of old age or a negative disposition. I was a little comforted when I talked to somone who had appeared as a Courtier in the original production while still a student. Later she was one of the Stars. She was appalled at the loss of detail.
Posted 04 January 2004 - 11:01 AM
I was most disappointed with the sets. Before I saw it I was concerned it might look to Sleeping Beauty-ish but now I wish it had been. The kitchen was suitably sparten but the ball room didn't have any glamour about it at all. I also though the guests at the ball had very muted costumes, not the kind of sparkle you would expect from a ball with (albeit a nameless) royal going!
Oh well, roll on Giselle!
Posted 11 January 2004 - 09:39 AM
I agree - roll on Giselle. I'm going next week and I can't wait!
Posted 11 January 2004 - 11:17 AM
Beckster, you may have been disappointed with the original cast as well (or subsequent casts, for about three decades after the ballet's premiere) but one could also make the case that with a stronger cast, the dancers pull the ballet together -- or, to put it another way, when you have a weak cast, the ballet looks like sections and not a coherent whole.
Alymer, as for ballets disappearing, I hold the memory of Hans Brenaa as a hope. He brought back "Lifeguards" ["Livjaerne paa Amager"] after it had been out of repertory for nearly 30 years. Granted, he was in a company where there were a lot of dancers still around who had seen those performances, and a few who had been in them, but he was also able to show new dancers how to do the roles. So there's always hope......
Posted 11 January 2004 - 04:10 PM
This, plus the vulgarity of much of the Sisters' business, is what really distresses me about this production. Few people seeing it for the first time could get any idea of what made Ashton so special.
Posted 12 January 2004 - 05:09 AM
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