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Ashton Fan

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Posts posted by Ashton Fan

  1. Amy, Thank you for your detailed account of Ratmansky's La Bayadere. From what you have written it would appear that Ratmansky has staged a work which is recognisably  a mid-nineteenth century ballet in the balance which it strikes between narrative and dance content. Whether we shall all like a version of the work which is a genuine attempt to stage a pre-Revolutionary version of the ballet is another matter which will depend on our own personal tastes and preferences and in particular whether we regard the ballets of the nineteenth century as technically demanding works of narrative and mood or merely as opportunities for technical display.

    I can't help thinking that whether or not  a genuine attempt to reconstruct a nineteenth century ballet retains its place in a company's repertory has far more to do with how much professional capital has been invested in the version which a company danced before the reconstruction was staged than anything else. It would seem  that a reconstruction  has a much better chance of surviving as a repertory piece where a company makes no claim to having a continuous performance tradition of the work than where it does. The Bolshoi's reconstructed Le Corsaire and Coppelia did not displace much loved versions of the ballet and have retained a hold in the company's repertory whereas the Mariinsky's Sleeping Beauty and La Bayadere reconstructions were replacing stagings for which continuity and an unbroken  performing tradition were claimed, and the reconstructions have not survived . Part of the problem is that the audience may have to get used to a text which has no place for familiar characters or traditional mid twentieth century display pieces another is the dance vocabulary used in the earlier versions.The familiar mid-century much modified "traditional " versions tend to emphasise steps of elevation whereas earlier versions often emphasise petite batterie. If you then add period appropriate performance style to the mix there is a great deal for an audience to get used to seeing. Now I think that an audience, even one that is emotionally,attached to a particular version of a text, has a far greater capacity to adapt to the sort of culture shock which changes in performance style and text represent than a company's coaches who have a professional stake in the purported authenticity of what they are handing on to the next generation.

    Ratmansky is one of a number of pioneers in the world of  textual authenticity and early ballet performance practice and we are currently where the advocates of the early music movement were fifty or sixty years ago. Should any of us be surprised that the movement seems to be of more interest to some companies than others? It is far easier to gain acceptance of the new approach when a company has no emotional attachment to a text because it has no recent tradition of performing the work which is to be restored than it is for a company which makes claims to be the custodian of a ballet's "true" and "authentic" text. If a company claims that it has lovingly preserved a text in an unbroken performance tradition, passing the text down from coach to dancer, generation after generation then a restored text is a threat not only  to the company's claims to custodianship but to the professional standing, credibility and authority of its coaches as their professional reputation is dependent on their professional attachment and investment in the text danced locally as "true" and "authentic".

    I know that there is currently a debate about whether or not a reconstruction which does not use the original designs can be a true reconstruction. Here I think we have to be pragmatic. Three act ballets are expensive to stage whatever their theatrical history. These Imperial works are particularly expensive because of the resources which a staging in the original style would demand. Arguing that any attempt to restore an authentic performing text for La Bayadere, Swan Lake, or Sleeping Beauty performed in period appropriate style has to be accompanied by authentic imperial style sets and costumes puts the whole enterprise beyond the reach of all but the most well financially endowed companies such as the Mariinsky. Bolshoi and POB none of which are likely to embark on such a programme in the foreseeable future.

    It seems to me that trying to stage an authentic text is far more important than dressing the dancers in authentic style, if only because, it is doable and professionals and audiences alike need to see what these works look like when danced at the right speed with Petipa's musicality. Seeing them performed  in a more authentic style is what is needed to persuade the dance powers that be that authenticity is the only route to take in performance. As things are at present we will have to wait until hell freezes over before we see an authentic text performed in period in appropriate style in a Mariinsky staging of these ballets. It certainly has the resources to stage the works in Imperial style but, apart from staging the third act of its reconstructed Sleeping Beauty for its Petipa Gala it seems most disinclined to stage the major works itself in anything approaching authentic style and equally disinclined to co-operate with those who wish to do so. I believe that it even went back on its promise to make the original Minkus score of La Bayaderer available to Ratmansky for his Berlin staging.  

     I could easily accept a La Bayadere in which the score of the ballet is played at a speed both composer and choreographer expected; Petipa's musicality is restored and the entrance of the Shades is quicker and more dynamically interesting and there is no Golden Idol. But then I have just seen McRae's Solor and  I know that I really can do without bravura technical display for its own sake. It's astonishing but his performance as Solor was more like a circus act than an account of the role or the character. So for me as far as an authentic Bayadere is concerned it cannot come too soon. Ratmansky is one of a number of pioneers in the world of nineteenth century ballet text and performance style and we are currently where the advocates of the early music movement were in the 1950's and 1960's. That movement achieved its  ends with committed performances by pioneer musicians who transformed taste as far as eighteenth century musical performance style is concerned. It will be performances of authentic texts in appropriate style, almost certainly without authentic sets and costumes, that will do the same for Petipa's ballets.


  2. I have to say that I understood that Ratmansky's motive in all of this was to try to get closer to the narrative and choreographic texts of Petipa's ballets and what they may have looked like in performance which inevitably involves restoring a text which Petipa might  recognise; removing additional characters who were not in the  ballet which he created and restoring his musicality by insisting that the text is performed in period appropriate style and at the correct speed. Whether we like the results or not is a different matter.The Golden Idol was an obvious candidate for removal, What I find really  interesting and I have only read about it  so far, is that the ballet seems to have been restored to a far more obviously nineteenth century structure and narrative than the version we are used to seeing. The Ratmansky  production seems to have restored an orientalist ballet not unlike Giselle in its structure and theme to the stage with the first part of the ballet devoted to narrative ending in a death scene rather than a mad scene and the second half devoted to dance with rivalry, rather than class conflict providing the  motivating theme of the ballet. It sounds intriguing to me.

    Ratmansky is one of a number of pioneers in the world of  textual authenticity and early ballet performance practice and we are currently where the advocates of the early music movement were fifty or sixty years ago. Should any of us be surprised that the movement seems to be of more interest to some ballet companies than others? It is far easier to gain acceptance of the new approach when a company has no recent tradition of performing the work  which is now to be staged in the new style than it is for a company which makes claims to be the custodian of the ballet's "true" and "authentic" text lovingly preserved in an unbroken performance tradition of the work;the professional standing. credibility and authority of the company's coaches is dependent on their professional attachment and investment in the text danced locally as "true" and "authentic" and its audiences are equally attached to that "authentic" text.

    La Bayadere is not my favourite ballet and at the moment I would far rather see the Nureyev "KIngdom of the Shades" restored to the Covent Garden stage in all its thirty two Shade grandeur, however inauthentic it may be, than watch Markarova's full length, suitable for touring, version of the ballet . But I think that I could easily accept Ratmansky's version of the work. A La Bayadere in which the score of the ballet is not in Lanchbury's orchestration and is played at the speed both composer and choreographer expected; Petipa's musicality is restored and the entrance of the Shades is quicker and more dynamically interesting because it is performed in period appropriate style sounds very tempting. But then having just seen McRae's Solor I know that I really can do without bravura technical display for its own sake. It's astonishing but it is  more like circus than an account of the role or the character but that is as much the fault of the stagers and coaches as it is the dancer's. I can only hope that the day will come when it is unacceptable for a major ballet company not to have a late nineteenth century version of the texts of the greatest of Petipa's ballets performed in period appropriate style but it is also permissible to perform major mid-century stagings of the work ,or a mid- century staging of a scene, which it performs from time to time.

  3. I agree that you should not have to wait for a significant anniversary in order to see a major work revived but the fact is that is probably what is going to take to get Daphnis and Chloe revived because all I could get out of Kevin when I spoke to him about the neglect of the Ashton repertory was that Daphnis is expensive to stage, The argument that it is a masterpiece cut no ice with him but the Fonteyn centenary might just do the trick. The company should revive it  becuase as Ashton said if he had not worked with Fonteyn he would never have developed the lyricism in his choreography.It was revived with its original Craxton designs in 2004 for the Ashton centenary and has not been staged since. You are quite right that the RB seems to be on a roll at present as far as its dancers are concerned. It has several dancers who should be given the chance to dance the Fonteyn role and several young men who should be very be good as Daphnis. The problem with Kevin is that he seems to think that you can leave major works in cold storage for ages and when you revive them they will still look good. But then his  background is with BRB which because of its size, has on occasion, to accept compromise casting and performances which will be good enough rather than outstandingly good. This experience  seems to affect his judgement more than is healthy for any works in the back catalogue which call for solo singers, choruses or extra pianists,

    I will do my best to give a coherent account of my experience of the reconstruction.

  4. Interested to learn that Anna Rose appeared in Tarantella with Sambe in what must have been her role debut  and also in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux which I think must have been a joint debut and that in both cases they were well received. But if the RB's dancers no longer perform Balanchine as they once did with a heavy foreign accent  that is in large part the result of no longer having such a pronounced house performance style. The more idiomatic Balanchine is perhaps at the cost of a less sure grasp of Ashton's stylistic obsessions and quirks. I had thought that perhaps the Mariinsky's dancers might have had the sense to conform more to the requirements of the choreography when appearing in New York . Did they really cut bits of the choreography in Tchai  as reported ?

  5. The first night cast of Nunez, Muntagirov and Osipova  are due to dance in the streamed performance of La Bayadere . If last night is anything to go by it will have an exceptionally strong supporting cast with the  Shades  danced by Choe, Naghdi and Takada and the First Soloists out in force in the betrothal scene. All of which suggests that a DVD may be in the offing.

    The cast for the streamed Romeo and Juliet is due to be led by Naghdi and Ball. No other casting for this streamed performance is available at present, Here there are rumours of a studio shot film.

    The streamed performance of Mayerling was danced by a cast led by McRae and Takada and quite a few people here don't understand why it was not the Bonelli, Morera cast who were recorded. 

  6.  I intend to go later in the run. I can't go earlier as I have rather a lot of tickets for performances closer to home, I shall console myself with the thought that by the time I get to see this production of La Bayadere it will have benefitted from all the intervening performances it has received and that while the dancers appearing in it at that point may be less stellar than at earlier performances they may well be more inclined to follow the party line as far as performance style and musicality are concerned.

    Meanwhile, closer to home, Mr O'Hare seems to be resolutely refusing to acknowledge significant anniversaries of any kind. The Scarlett production of Swan Lake was more of an exercise in thumbing your nose at Petipa than an act of homage to the man and there is little sign that Kevin intends to mark the centenary of Fonteyn's birth in any way, let alone a significant one. As for other anniversaries which occur about this time such as the centenary of the first performances of Le Tricorne and La Boutique Fantasque two important works by Massine I can't see anything happening on that front either.

  7. The Insight evening gives the opportunity to see Naghdi who makes her debut as Gamzatti during this run being coached as actress and dancer. The other dancers involved are Takada as Nikiya and MacNally as the servant. In addition to seeing Naghdi in the Act 1 scene 2 confrontation between Gamzatti and Nikiyal  we see her dancing the betrothal scene solo and  later some of Gamzatti's choreography from the temple scene in the final act. I shall be interested to know what you think of its contents. The discussion of the work's origins in the nineteenth century obsession with all things exotic and oriental increasingly felt like padding and as something of a non-event as it dealt with the issue of cultural appropriation  which seemed to me to have been included as a means of signalling to the vast audience that these events have that the ROH is a virtuous, culturally sensitive and politically correct organisation rather than telling us that much about the work itself.

  8. A friend has told me that he thinks that the Royal Ballet's difficulties with streaming its performances in the US may well be connected to the fact that the Met has a virtual monopoly as far as streaming opera performances in the US is concerned. By the way while you may have missed a great deal in not being able to access the Royal Ballet's performances you have not missed much by not being able to watch the Royal Opera's performances. Nearly all of the Opera's recent offerings have been "Eurotrash" productions. Just to give you an indication of how silly things have become it is said that  the operatic powers that be at Bow Street were none too pleased when  David McVicker production of Andrea Chenier turned out to be very place and time specific as far its sets and costumes are concerned and were not that impressed by the director's argument that it was rather difficult to transpose the action of the opera to another place and time when there were so many references to well known historical figures in the libretto.

  9. MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet is a real slog for the dancer playing Romeo as he is on stage for most of the action of the ballet without opportunities for a break. Juliet by comparison gets let off lightly. Donald MacLeary who was very strong and an exceptional partner has said on several occasions that by the time a Romeo begins the balcony pas de deux in the MacMillan version of the ballet he is exhausted. In his account of dancing the role during the ballet's initial run in London, which was filmed for a streamed performance, he gave some insight into what it actually feels like physically to dance the role of Romeo which is not as obviously strenuous as the role of Rudolf. MacLeary said that the dancer arrives at the balcony pas de deux which ends the first act and finds himself confronted with this girl who keeps throwing herself at him. All he could think of at that point was "Why is she throwing herself at me ? Does not she realise I'm exhausted?" Well,Mayerling requires considerably more of the dancer taking the role of Rudolf in terms of partnering and acting.

    As to how demanding the role of Rudolf really is, during the course of the first act he dances with his sister in law, Princess Louise; Larisch, his sister and Mary Vetsera as a child; his mother and finally with his wife,, Princess Stephanie. The ballet in its entirety is a real test of the dancer's stamina, acting and partnering skills but the final pas de deux of the first act, at whatever speed it is taken, is probably the most taxing thing that MacMillan ever required a male dancer to do. I know that on the night of the first performance the audience came out of the auditorium at the first interval wondering how the ballet was going to develop during the next two acts because the demanding nature of the acting and the choreography which closed the first act clearly removed several options for the end of the final act. I think that most of the audience were asking themselves " Where does it go from here?" Ed Watson has said that he ends the first act feeling as if he has danced a full three act ballet. I believe that David Wall who created the role said words to the effect that the day following a performance of the role he felt as if he had been run over by a steamroller. 

  10. Yesterday there was an unwelcome development as far as the Autumn season is concerned when it was announced that Ed Watson will not be appearing in the current run of Mayerling. Many people had interpreted the revival of the ballet as Watson's swan song when it appeared in the season's schedule. Watson is to be replaced by Hirano while Hirano is to be replaced by Ball. The role of Rudolf is exceptionally demanding physically and it is to be hoped that Ball, who is in his early twenties, comes through the experience unscathed and does no damage to his career long term, David Wall said that dancing the role had reduced his career by five years.

  11. As far as the future of the  Ashton repertory is concerned. If you are going to deal with a problem you have to be prepared to admit that it exits which is something which the current Artistic Director resolutely refuses to do. Comparing what Kevin O'Hare says about the  Ashton repertory with the ballets he actually programmes is quite revealing. He seems  to have convinced himself that he is remarkably even handed as far as the amount of performance time allocated to revivals of Ashton and MacMillan repertory are concerned. If he is unable or unwilling to recognise and admit that the Ashton problem exists then remedial action is not going to be taken any time soon.

    The neglect of the Ashton repertory is not a recent thing. The fact that it is not of recent origin makes it more difficult to remedy as it now goes virtually unnoticed. As to what went wrong? Perhaps the rot set in when Michael Somes, who described himself as a "perfectionist" was "retired" from the company. Somes was the closest Ashton ever got to having a Hans Beck figure to look after his ballets, and while he may not have devised a training system of daily classes to maintain the Ashton performance style, he coached and staged Ashton's ballets with such great care and precision that they always looked extraordinary in performance. Unfortunately after he retired in 1984 there was no one with comparable commitment to the Ashton repertory to replace him. At the Ashton conference "Following Sir Fred's Steps" held at Roehampton University in 1994   there were reports of dancers being encouraged to "camp up" their performances of Ashton choreography. Another problem which the repertory faced in 1984 was that relations between Dowell and Ashton had cooled as a result of Dowell's plans for a new Swan Lake which involved abandoning nearly all of Ashton's additional choreography for the ballet.

    Ashton died in 1988. Jeremy Isaacs, then General Administrator at Covent Garden, says in his memoirs that soon after Ashton's death he found himself in a meeting with Kenneth MacMillan and his wife. Isaacs describes the meeting in some detail saying that Lady M.did most of the talking making it clear that she thought that her husband's works should be given priority over Ashton's because he was alive and so capable of producing new works for the company. Isaacs records that she told him that Anthony agreed with this course of action. This meeting is, I suspect, as close as any of us will get to identifying the point at which MacMillan became the company's presiding genius and its greatest choreographer. Certainly by the time the company entered the 1990's it seemed that it was the ability to dance the MacMillan dram-ballet repertory which really mattered as no one seemed that concerned that not all the company's senior dancers were able to dance Ashton's choreography in a nuanced idiomatic fashion. Gradually the standard Ashton repertory dwindled to the handful of works owned by three or four of Ashton's named legatees. By the time that the opera house was closed for much needed redevelopment Dowell had far more pressing problems to deal with than the fate of the Ashton repertory as the continued existence of the company as a full time organisation came under threat. It is reported that Michael Kaiser had suggested that the company should be disbanded during the opera house's closure and  re-established on a part-time basis when it re-opened.

    Mason's directorship saw quite a few Ashton ballets brought back into the repertory but as both the Ashton centenary and the company's seventy fifth anniversary occurred during her directorship it would have been difficult to have avoided staging a wider range of Ashton ballets than had become the norm. The problem is that having restored Daphnis and Chloe with its original sets and costumes in 2004 it has not been performed since and if had not been for last season's revival of Sylvia it would have seemed that under the current director Sylvia was destined to be ignored until the next significant company anniversary  rather than the commemoration of an individual occurred. Fonteyn's centenary falls next year and at present the only programmed ballet which has any direct Fonteyn connection appears to be the Firebird. It will be interesting to see what Kevin proposes staging in the 2019-2020 season and whether those choices have a sufficiently close connection with Fonteyn for them to be interpreted as a serious attempt to mark the centenary of her birth. But then it would be sad if the neglected Ashton repertory, of which there is a great deal, were only staged for commemoration purposes.

  12. As an outsider I do not intend to comment at length on the behaviour described in the court papers. I am sure that this has all come as a great shock to the loyal followers of NYCB and to the fans of the dancers named in the court papers.  I suspect that from now on in the main concern of NYCB and SAB will be to limit the damage as it looks as if neither are likely to escape with their reputation unscathed. Please note I am saying nothing more than mud sticks and most people who are not actively involved in the world of ballet will remember the allegations connected with the trainers and  practitioners' of an elite artform not who the court believed.

    We none of us know whether this matter will make it to a full court hearing or not. The chances are that NYCB will try to settle out of court and, of course, if it does so. the evidence will not be tested in the way it would be at a full hearing. NYCB has a difficult decision to make about whether to fight the case or not because even if it were to be exonerated what most people will remember are the allegations and they are likely to take the view that there is "no smoke without fire". The fact is that both NYCB and SAB are likely to suffer considerable reputational damage as a result of the allegations set out in the papers which may well lead to a decision being made that damage limitation should be the order of the day. Will NYCB want to gamble on the possibility that what may look solid on paper could  crumble under cross examination knowing that what comes out during a contested hearing will inflict further damage by being the subject of extensive media reporting spread out over the course of the hearing with the addition of media comment or worse still that the complainant's evidence proves to be rock solid and sounds even worse in the context of a full courtroom hearing where cross examination by lawyers acting for the company could easily come to be seen as further abuse? It takes years for an organisation to build a solid reputation and days or weeks to lose it. 

    As far as the succession to the directorship is concerned I suspect that the Board will now go out of its way to avoid appointing anyone with what might appear to be an unhealthily close connection with the Martin's directorship and its ways.  



  13. Birdsall how many shades did the company field at the performance ? If it was thirty two then  Grigorovich is giving audiences the number of shades who should be seen in that scene rather than the slimmed down number favoured by Markarova in her staging. As you indicate there is something magnificent about four ramps and a stage full of shades.  

  14. dAs a complete outsider it seems to me that NYCB management has tried the damage limitation route with its internal investigation and the suspension of two of the three named individuals, no doubt hoping that the whole thing would blow over because the man most deeply implicated had resigned and it had "taken action" against the other two named men. I should be most surprised if the situation for NYCB does not get a whole lot worse whether or not the matter ends up going to a full hearing.The problem it seems to me is that whatever official guidelines the company may have about conduct in the workplace and conduct towards students at SAB it would not be that difficult for a lawyer to establish that the company has a longstanding institutional culture in which exploitative relationships have been the order of the day and that the behaviour complained of, far from being an aberration, is merely the most extreme manifestation of that culture. If the legal team representing the complainant take that line then NYCB is in for a great deal of reputational damage, Its attempt to deal with those involved in the behaviour complained of  is going to look like little more than a weak and feeble attempt by NYCB to protect its reputation by going through the motions. as the "punishment" imposed on the two men who remain company members looks like little more than mere tokenism.

     I assume that as the complainant has decided to take civil action against the three named men and the company she only has to prove the truth of her allegations on the balance of probabilities ? I ask this because if that is the case then she only has to establish that it is more likely than not that the activity she complains of took place and in most common law jurisdictions it also means that the rules as to what evidence may be introduced on the grounds of relevance are more generous than they would be in a criminal case. Please understand I am not saying that the complainant has taken the civil route because her claims are without sufficient substance to justify criminal proceedings. I am simply saying that because the complainant is taking a civil case  NYCB is likely to be subject to far more adverse  publicity and open to far more criticism as an institution than would have been the case if criminal proceedings were being taken. It will almost certainly be argued that if the company had been serious about dealing with such behaviour and stamping it out then the current management team would have imposed exemplary punishment on all involved and severed all its links with the donor and anyone else implicated and that by failing to do so it has condoned the continuation of the institution's toxic culture.

    I think that whoever is finally appointed to act as the company's Artistic Director is going to face such a gargantuan task in terms of establishing a new institutional culture, restoring the company's morale and its reputation that quite a few people who might have been tempted to apply for the post will decide against doing so. It might even be the case that the Board will decide that in order to  be seen to be making a clean break with the past it needs to appoint someone who has far less immediate involvement with the company than it originally contemplated.

  15.  If only that were likely. I think that followers of both Royal Ballet companies would be ecstatic if Webb were to become Birmingham's AD. Unfortunately I don't think that it is very likely that Webb will apply as he seems to be very content where he is. With Webb at Birmingham the artistic directors of both the Royal Ballet Covent Garden and English National Ballet would face real artistic competition. Not only would we have an artistic director who actually cares about the Ashton repertory, knows how to stage his works and will stage them rather than merely paying lip service to his importance to his company but Birmingham would have one who would be more likely to stage new works and works from the company's extensive back catalogue than endless Bintley revivals. With some of the other potential candidates I can think of we would probably end up with something far too close to a continuation of the current Bintley regime for artistic comfort. 

  16. There are a few people who say that MacMillan blatantly copied scenes from the Cranko version of the ballet but I think that the truth is that once Western choreographers had seen the original Lavrovsky version of the ballet, they tended to stick to a similar sequence of scenes, not that there is really that much leeway for anyone in the English speaking world to depart from the narrative or the characters found in Shakespeare's play. Most of the time the score itself dictates what action should be set to it. The  music for the ballroom scene and the balcony scene could hardly be used for anything else but the choreographer still has choices to make. The real choices for the choreographer include whether to make the dancers' movements a poetic lyrical  expression of individual emotion in which case the scene has to be kept intimate and relatively small scale or whether to make the whole thing epic and large scale. The other decisions to be made include whether, and to what extent to use a realistic approach to the story telling.                                    

    Ashton is the only choreographer who I can think of who was not influenced by seeing the Lavrovsky version of the ballet. He made his original version of the ballet for the Royal Danish Ballet in the early fifties before the Soviet version had become well known in the West, However when Ashton came to restage his Romeo and Juliet for English National Ballet in the 1980's  he chose to incorporate the iconic image from the Lavrovsky  version of Juliet's headlong rush to Friar Lawrence's cell her scarf flying behind her, but then he was not averse to alluding to iconic visual images from great performers of the past.

    Of course everyone making a ballet based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet using Prokofiev's score and choreographic material derived from the classical danse d'ecole  has the same range of codified steps and body movement available to them. But each choreographer makes their own decisions as to which elements, if any, derived from ordinary, everyday body language he wishes to use and because every choreographer has an individual way of using the classical vocabulary and a personal response to the score to which their choreography is set the musicality and the dynamics of their choreography, even if they were to use the same steps would look very different and create different emotional responses in the audience.

    Ashton's approach to the narrative is less concerned with large scale representations of the society in which Romeo and Juliet live and far more concerned with the characters caught up in the tragedy as individuals. If Ashton's approach to the tragedy is poetic and lyrical then MacMillan's is large scale and attempts to be cinematically realistic. Cranko's version lies somewhere between the two, more lyrical than MacMillan but less poetic than Ashton and not alluding to the text of the play in his choreography. Both Ashton and MacMillan include a number of direct references in the text in their choreography, Ashton shows the audience Tybalt as " prince of cats"' MacMillan shows the audience Romeo and Juliet's "holy palmer's kiss" and before the final act was altered gave the audience sight of the crypt as described by Juliet in the play.

    Now of course every one making a ballet using choreography derived from the classical danse d'ecole has the same steps available to them but because of the personal way they use those choreographic elements and the input of the dancers on whom their works were created there is no way in which you could confuse the versions created by Ashton, Cranko and MacMillan with each other, or, I think take seriously the accusation that MacMillan had blatantly copied Cranko's ballet.  If the borrowings were as blatant as sometimes suggested then it is surprising that Cranko took no action against MacMillan in the courts. The really strange thing is that I don't recall that sort of allegation being raised during the 1970's when Cranko was alive and the Stuttgart Ballet were regular visitors to London and audiences were able to examine and compare the MacMillan and Cranko versions in some depth.

    Having said that I would not be averse to putting the MacMillan version into storage for a decade or so and having the opportunity to see the Ashton version staged in full by a company who could afford to do so and danced by casts who took it seriously and could do it justice.


  17. Not so long ago I had a chance to speak to Kevin O'Hare about the neglect of certain elements of the company's repertory. The area which concerned me were the Diaghilev ballets which de Valois and Ashton had secured for the company and the neglect of the major works which Ashton had created for the company. In particular I had in mind the neglect of Daphnis and Chloe which has not been seen since 2004 and Cinderella which was last performed in the 2011-12 season.

    He said that the problem with Daphnis was the cost of reviving it. As far as Cinderella was concerned his immediate response was what would you do about the Ugly Sisters ? I suggested casting women in the roles of the Step Sisters for a couple of seasons which happened in the late 1950's (Gerd Larsen danced one of them): getting rid of the current costume designs  which make them look like pantomime dames replacing them with costumes which point to their characters which was how they were costumed in each previous production; working on playing them as characters which is how Ashton and Helpmann played them rather than the caricatures which they have become;working on their choreographed gestures as well as the steps and letting the  jokes in the choreography speak as each sister has choreography which neatly encapsulates her character, simple choreography for the shy unassuming sister and late nineteenth century bravura style for the dominant one. I also suggested that the characters of Wellington and Napoleon should be dropped and replaced by the tall and short partners of the original staging. This of course would mean that we could also lose the unfunny toupee joke which presumably became part of the stage business as a result of an onstage accident.

    I believe that since staging the new production of the ballet for the Royal Ellis-Somes has mounted a production in Poland which seems to have entirely different designs from those in use at Covent Garden. In an ideal world of course the Royal would revert to using the original Macles designs. As to dancers there is no lack of dancers who would be able to dance the roles of Cinderella and the Season Fairies with distinction.

  18. You ask "why the Royal Ballet does not schedule more Ashton each season" ? I  am not sure that there is a single definitive answer to that question. I think that the Royal Ballet's attitude to its Ashton repertory is one of great ambivalence to the choreographer and his works. It is almost as if those closely connected with running the company resent that it is still associated with its Ashton "heritage works" rather than with its MacMillan repertory which strangely never seems to have the word "heritage" attached to it. In  many ways its attitude to the Ashton repertory does not seem that different from the way the Royal Danish Ballet seems to feel about its Bournonville repertory. Both companies seem to wish that they were renowned for repertory other than the works with which most foreign dance enthusiasts associate them.

    I  sometimes think that the Ashton repertory is fated to go the same way that the Bournonville repertory did during the first half of the twentieth century and that it will end up being represented by a handful of ballets, which will not be representative of the range of Ashton's output nor of the choreographic quality his work but will simply be those few works which are known to attract current audiences and known to be financially viable. In other words just as the Bournonville with whom we are familiar is largely the product of repertory decisions made during Harald Lander;s directorship future generations' understanding and knowledge of the Ashton repertory will be determined largely by the taste and repertory preferences of Kevin O'Hare and his successors as Artistic Directors of the company. If that is the case then Marguerite and Armand is destined for a lengthy, money-spinning afterlife while a major work like Daphnis and Chloe is destined to disappear through neglect because it is expensive to stage.



  19. British theatrical tradition explains some elements of Ashton's Cinderella but it is far from providing a complete account of its contents. When the  monarchy was restored the London theatres were reopened but strict limits were placed on what theatres were permitted to perform. The non patent houses were permitted to perform entertainments which included singing,dancing and spectacular stage effects. elements which all found their way into what became the British pantomime tradition. It was these elements which avoided the effects of theatre licensing legislation which originally permitted only the two patent houses to perform spoken drama and came to dominate the theatrical form which is, or was pantomime. It has to be understood that pantomime also became a staple of the patent houses repertory because they were exceptionally good box office. While it was the Harlequinade which originally dominated the hybrid theatrical form. Gradually fairy tale characters began to appear in the fore piece which preceded the Harlequinade. The fore piece gradually came to dominate the entertainment and stories like those of Aladdin and Cinderella came to  be staple pantomime fare. I think that Aladdin made his first appearance in the late eighteenth century while Cinderella was an early nineteenth century arrival. Rossini's opera La Cenerentola was a staple of the opera repertory at the time that Cinderella was becoming an established theme for pantomime. At least one character from the opera ,Dandini, found his way into the pantomime version of Cinderella. The opera and the pantomime both portray the household in which Cinderella lives as consisting of her father and her two step sisters.

    I think that for most of the audience  who saw Ashton's Cinderella in 1948 and have seen it subsequently the absence of the stepmother requires no explanation whereas her presence would. I assume that it never occurred to Ashton that he should include the stepmother. As far as the Step Sisters are concerned I am not convinced that the British pantomime tradition explains why they are played as travesty roles or that the decline of the pantomime tradition explains why they have been played so coarsely since the turn of the century. There is, after all, a long theatrical tradition in both opera and ballet of older female characters and witches being played by men which has nothing to do with British pantomime. The operas of both Monteverdi and Cavalli have any number of old nurses played by men while in ballet Madge in La Sylphide and Carabosse in Sleeping Beauty are the most obvious examples of character roles originally performed by men. As to whether Ashton, who seems to have been a great ballet traditionalist, chose to follow the ballet tradition by creating the sisters as travesty roles, whether he was following British pantomime tradition  or whether his choice was forced on him by circumstances is a question which will probably never be answered satisfactorily. All I can say is that they have not always been played by men. In the late 1950's there were a couple of seasons when they were played by women. I have heard it suggested that Ashton originally intended to cast women as the Step Sisters but injury prevented him putting this plan into action. I have heard it said that it was lack of time that forced him into creating the roles for himself and Helpmann because he felt that he could rely on their joint ability to ad lib to provide the details which there had not been time to create in the rehearsal studio. As to why he continued to use men to play the Step Sisters long after it was necessary I suspect that his love of performing in front of an audience is the most likely explanation.

    I would suggest that the coarse performances of the Step Sisters and the reduction of the Jester from a character who comments on the action to a mere step machine  and a close relative of the Soviet Jester is in large part attributable to inept casting decisions; the beliefs and understanding of the roles of those involved in coaching them and the decision to accept designs which fail to provide any visual clue as to the  contrasting characters of the two Step Sisters and make it almost impossible for the audience to see the Jester's face and his expression. Finally there is the lack of dancers in the company who are willing or able to perform demi-character roles to the required standard. 

    As far as recordings are concerned the 1968 recording is the only one of a stage performance of Ashton's Cinderella to be made available for the public to purchase, first as a video and later as a DVD. While it is still available in the US it is no longer available on a zone  2 DVD which means that it is unavailable in Europe. The recording from the 1950's with Fonteyn, Somes and Alexander Grant in the cast and some very interesting dancers performing the season fairies was specially butchered for television by Ashton himself and is worth acquiring. The ballet was recorded again in 1979 with a cast led by Collier and Dowell with Monica Mason as Fairy Godmother and Wayne Sleep as the Jester but while it was televised it was never issued on either video tape or DVD.

    I will simply say that I would be much happier with a DVD of a performance recorded during Ashton's lifetime than one recorded more recently. In the recordings made during Ashton's lifetime  you see a company which dances Ashton's choreography idiomatically and with great musicality. If the 1979 performance  were ever to appear on DVD I should not hesitate to buy it but as  far as the Cojocaru, Kobborg recording made during the 2003-2004  season is concerned it has never been put on sale, and perhaps with good reason, as it was not exactly the Royal Ballet's finest hour. The new sets and costumes, which I assume Wendy Ellis approved as she is the ballet's current owner, establish entirely the wrong mood for the work. They suggest that the audience is about to see  a provincial pantomime rather than a ballet which is the fruit of Ashton's private lessons with Petipa and a tribute to that tradition. As to what was wrong with the performances seen on the 2003-04 revival I will simply say that those responsible for staging the ballet managed to secure the coarsest imaginable performances from Sleep and Dowell as the Step Sisters who completely unbalanced the work and that Martin's  performance of the Jester was not much better.

  20. I admired Acosta as a dancer in some ballet but being a great dancer does not make him a great stager of ballets  or even a competent one. Nureyev staged the Kingdom of the Shades for the company before he was let loose on anything bigger and more costly and at the time that he was working with the company it had three choreographers on hand one of whom at least would have been prepared to intervene whether or not she was asked. I am afraid that I think that O'Hare seems much better at managing his dancers' careers and giving them the opportunities they need than he is when it comes to decisions about new works and new productions where he shows a complete lack of discernment and taste. The worst thing is that he seems to see no need to keep an eye on what is being created for him and the company is paying for. In an interview he gave while the company was in Australia he seemed to say that he commissions a choreographer and then lets them get on with it. Perhaps the problem is that as someone without any experience of making dance works he does not feel able to intervene. But while that arm's length approach has given us "The Winter's Tale" it has also given us a large quantity of choreographic dross. It has  given us Wheeldon's Strapless which I assume was intended to have some psychological depth to it. It is hopeless with large chunks of choreography intended to give us local colour looking as if they are sections cut from his production Of An American In Paris plus a series of bland neo classical works and some even blander pieces of inoffensive choreography by Marriott. In addition it has given us Acosta's Carmen which is unspeakably bad; Scarlett's Swan Lake which is a disaster area when compared with the text which the company danced until 2015 and Frankenstein which is far too reverential towards its literary source and contains a great deal of action and choreography that need to be cut including a totally unnecessary scene in an inn which appears to be an unhappy combination of the brothel scene in The Rake's Progress and the Tavern scene in Mayerling. 

  21. Amnacenani. I have no idea what Osipova's contractual obligations with the Royal Ballet are but I assume that she is meeting them by dancing in the ballets in which she has been scheduled to appear during the course of the entire season. I would not be inclined to read much, if anything,  into the fact that she is only due to dance two performances of Kitri during the run of seventeen performances of Don Q scheduled for the 2018-19 season. The fact that the two performances are only five days apart and towards the end of the run suggests that the dates have been selected to accommodate her performance schedule. I suspect that it is her choice to limit her performances as Kitri to two rather than a decision imposed on her by management. Few dancers who make their early reputation in demi-character roles like Swanhilde and Kitri want to continue to be associated with them in the public mind in perpetuity. It could be that it is for her a question of putting away "childish things". Also I hate to point this out but the Royal Ballet is not a one dancer company. There are quite a few other dancers whose names will induce people to buy tickets. For those who like Don Q  the performances by the cast led by Nunez, Muntagirov are likely to sell out quickly while both  the untried casts of Corrales, Kaneko and Naghdi, Sambe are  sure to attract those who are interested in the younger dancers in the company. 

    Now while I might find it hard to understand why O'Hare has chosen to revive Don Q; I might even wonder why he agreed to let Acosta stage it in the first place as its performance  style is what Danilova once described as an "exhibition of dance" and as such not exactly the Royal Ballet's house style and never likely to be; but I am not surprised that seven different casts are due to dance it from February to April 2019. O'Hare has said on any number of occasions that while he cannot promote everyone he might wish to, he intends to provide his dancers with a wide range of repertory in which to appear. The company has a number of dancers who guest and work elsewhere during the course of a season and seems to be quite relaxed about those arrangements as it creates opportunities for talented  younger dancers to be challenged technically and to develop as artists while senior dancers are guesting with other companies. The  great advantage of the company's flexible approach to guesting with other companies is that it reduces the likelihood of senior dancers leaving and it ensures that talented dancers are not held back  and fail to develop  to  their full potential because a handful of dancers or a single dancer block their development opportunities. It should ensure that the company never suffers from the effect of a single dancer dominating the public imagination as far as repertory, casting  and performances are concerned. It was only when I read the comments of talented dancers like Ann Jenner describing the palpable sense of audience disappointment when Fonteyn was not dancing. and the feeling that they were seen as second best that I came to understand how detrimental Fonteyn's lengthy career was to the careers of several generations of dancers. It made the me wonder whether the company's problems in the 1980s and 1990's were the result of her over long dominance and what came close to being a cult of personality.

    I am sure that there will be some who will say that the company should extend its stylistic reach to include the bravura, display performance style epitomised in the current performance practice  displayed in Don Q but I would much prefer that everyone in the company should be able to dance Ashton's choreography with an innate feel for its musicality and dynamics and that those cast in leading roles were able to show the ability to dance their roles rather than merely reproducing the steps accurately but seemingly without any understanding of the appropriate performance style  or sense of the character they are supposed to be portraying.The other ballets scheduled for performance during this booking period are much more "house style" ballets than Don Q is ever likely to be. Perhaps it is a lack of imagination on my part but I find it  hard to imagine which roles among those in the works scheduled  Osipova might have been prepared to consider dancing or that management might have thought of offering her. Masha in MacMillan's Winter Dreams is a possibility I suppose but apart from that I can't imagine her wanting to appear in Les Patineurs or The Two Pigeons although the role of the Gipsy would suit her admirably it is neither a prestigious role nor a particularly long one although very theatrically effective when danced by the right dancer.

  22. One fact that seems to get overlooked in any discussion about why no exemption from conscription was ever requested for British male ballet dancers during the Second World War or after the war when the country was no longer in immediate danger is de Valois' own family background. She was certainly Irish by birth but although she was born in County Wicklow, her family were part of the ascendancy class from whose ranks a significant proportion of  the British Army's officer corps were drawn. Her father Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Stannus DSO of the Leinster Regiment died of wounds received in action on the 17th June 1917 at the age of forty six, and her maternal grandfather, Captain John Smith had served with the Royal Fusiliers. While this knowledge throws considerable light on how she was able to deal with the British Army who initially were only prepared to evacuate the women in the company when they found themselves on a British Council tour near the German, Dutch border and the German army decided to invade Holland. It is extraordinarily difficult to imagine how anyone with her family background would have been prepared to countenance exemptions of any sort from military service for the male members of her company.

    Conscription continued to affect British ballet companies and their male dancers for some years after the war. Joy Newton writing an essay about staging the Sleeping Beauty in a booklet  about the ballet's history and its music said that Ashton devised his choreography for the first act waltz for an all female corps because the company was forever losing its young male dancers to national service. Conscription continued for some time after the war. The National Service Act 1948 required all healthy males between 17 and 21 to undertake eighteen months military service, extended to two years after the Korean War. Conscription was gradually phased out from 1957 onwards . Those born on and after 1st October 1939 were the first group of men not  required to undertake military service. The first generation of male dancers of the Royal Ballet not to have their careers interrupted, if not ruined, by conscription included Michael Coleman, born 1941, Anthony Dowel,l born 1943, and David Wall, born 1946.


    Since this thread was started there have been a number of books written about British ballet during the war the most obvious of which are;

    " A Dancer in Wartime" written by the late Dame Gillian Lynne.

    "Albion's Dance; British Ballet During the Second World War" by Karen Elliot published by Oxford University Press.

     Dame Beryl Grey's recent autobiography " A Life in Dance" which includes her wartime experiences both as student and dancer.


  23. I am not entirely surprised that there was a lower turn out than usual for London Ballet Circle meetings. While Wimbledon and the World Cup may have had an impact on the size of the audience I suspect that the heat was what put the majority of people off attending. In addition to these obvious factors affecting the turn out I can think of several people who usually attend LBC meetings who decided that what could probably prove to be Felicity Palmer's last Wigmore Hall recital was far too important to miss. As has already been said at some point the authorised account of the meeting will appear on the LBC website.

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