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The Nutcracker in England: questions.


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The Nutcracker is coming back again, and so I'll make my yearly pilgrimage to see the two staging’s I always look forward to : Fedorova’s staging for BRdMC, imported from Havana by the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami and Balanchine's for MCB. Interesting noting that both versions were staged by two Russians who both got to dance it in the pre-Soviet Imperial Saint Petersburg production.

Interesting too is the fact that both versions contain elements that were part of the Petipa/Ivanov production, in Balanchine's case a recreation of the Candy Canes dance and in Fedorova's the Grand Pas de deux.

Now, as I was watching the gorgeous clip of Dowell/Collier dancing the Grand Pas from Sir Peter Wright's production for the Royal Ballet, some questions popped in my mind. Hopefully someone will shred some light on the subject.

1-What's the historical trail of the Nutcracker performances in England after the mid 30's Vic-Wells production and before the 1984 Wright's staging...? (We're talking about half of a century here)

2- Does Wright's production has a direct link with that first Sergueev staging for the Vic-Wells starring Markova...?

3-Was the Grand Pas preserved somehow in pre-Wright productions..? (It always amazes me the fact that the choreography came to Alonso via two very different sources, by Markova and Sergueev from England on one side and by Fedorova from Russia on the other, and according to her they were-(are)-identical.

4-Finally...was karsavina somewhat involved in the future staging of the ballet...? I'm thinking that even if she died six years before this production was created, maybe she had previously advised Wright on elements of the original choreography, just as she did with Ashton's "Fille"...? (I think I remember having read somewhere that Karsavina held some conversations about it with Wright but I'm not sure of the source of my scarce recollections...)

I'm sure Leonid, atm711 and Mel can get me some of the answers, so thanks in advance! flowers.gif

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According to the notes to the " Royal Ballet Gala" Ansermet CD:

First performance on 30 January 1934 with Markova "with Lydia Lopokova "constantly present to translate, interpret and demonstrate" and with the veteran regisseur Nicolai Sergueff, as producer.

For Christmas 1936 the Nutcracker was given new sets and costumes designed by Mtislav Doubujinsky,one of Diaghilev's early collaborators.

When the Sadlers Wells Theatre Ballet toured America in 1951-2, the Nutcracker was restaged by Frederic Ashton. Cecil Beaton designed new sets and costumes. Elaine Fifield and David Blair were the principal dancers

(The original recording (and these notes) was dated 1959, current edition is 2008

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So I guess that by the time Ashton got his hand in the choreography in '51 he probably left the Grand Pas as it had been danced for 17 years before him...


...and then ditto with Wright when he got it 33 years after Ashton...

...AND also ditto with Magaly Suarez for the Cuban Classical Ballet of Miami only 71 years after Fedorova staged it...!! laugh.png


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Ashton's 1951 Nutcracker consisted only of the Snow Scene and the Kingdom of Sweets, and according to David Vaughan's book, 'unlike some other choreographers, Ashton realised that it is difficult to improve on the original choreography for the grand pas de deux, and left it as it was'. However the Sergeyev production did not include a solo for the Prince, so Ashton made a new one for David Blair. Peter Wright actually danced in this production - he was in the original cast of the Arabian dance.

The London RB danced Act 3 of the Sergeyev production up till 1944 but once they moved into Covent Garden it was dropped and there was no Nutcracker in the repertory until they staged Nureyev's production in 1968.

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not sure if this publicity photo from a tour of the Sadler's Wells Ballet to the States was posted before, but for now, here's a full-stage grouping from the second act of Ashton's staging of NUTCRACKER.

(the print is not well captioned, but it may indicate a '52 tour, and some British ballet colleagues have suggested that Sugarplum may be Elaine Fifield.)


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not sure if this publicity photo from a tour of the Sadler's Wells Ballet to the States was posted before, but for now, here's a full-stage grouping from the second act of Ashton's staging of NUTCRACKER.

(the print is not well captioned, but it may indicate a '52 tour, and some British ballet colleagues have suggested that Sugarplum may be Elaine Fifield.)

What a great pic, rg..! (Thanks, as usual, for those wonderful treats of yours..). I see the Spanish Dance on the left-(from audience perspective)-, the Arabian on the right, two marzipans on each side of the stage and I would say the two couples on each side of the Sugar Plum/Coqueluche are the Chinese...? Then, the rest four couples in the back are supposed to be the Russian Dance, right...?

The London RB danced Act 3 of the Sergeyev production up till 1944

Oh, how interesting, so the Vic-Wells production had THREE acts instead of two..? How come...? Did Sergueev devoted a whole act to the Snow Scene...? If so, then more music and choreography must have been added to it...do you know if England had also its share of a new Snow Queen PDD...?

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I would very much like to see the Cuban Classical Ballet's production of Nutcracker---just to see how close it is to the BRdMC version. Their PDD is as I remember it from the BRdMC. and also from Ballet Theatre. 'Pas De Deux: The Art of Partnering; by Anton Dolin' details the choreography for the PDD. Interestingly, Dolin does not cite Sergeyev or Fedorova---he says Choreo. by Ivanov, reconstructed by Anton Dolininnocent.gif

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Cristian, from a captioned photo of a near-identical moment, the two men on either side of the leading couple are indeed the Chinese (Tea from China) and the four men in black hats are 'Nougat from Russia'; the 8 women with the Russians are from the Valse des Fleurs (Crystallized flowers) - the one with the Chinese man on the right is probably Maryon Lane, who led the waltz, and I'd guess that the corresponding one on the left is the one who led the 'Sugar Sticks', probably Patricia Miller, with the other four being the ones standing at the front.

They certainly listed the 1934 production as having 3 acts but I'd guess it was actually the 2 acts, 3 scenes as usual. The Ashton version opened with a pas de deux for the Snow King and Queen (Robert Lunnon and Svetlana Beriosova in the first cast) - the review I'm reading says nothing about the choreography but adds 'Ashton has interpolated a variation for Beriosova to some music I cannot remember hearing in this ballet before' - which seems to imply that the rest of it was already in existence.

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I don't ever remember going to see Nutcracker at the Royal Ballet when I was young (1950's early 1960's) . What I do remember was going every year to see the London Festival Ballet's (now ENB) version. Clara was always danced by a talented little girl in their version (how jealous I was of those lucky girls!) and there were loads of children in it as party goers and mice. It was a very traditional version with the Christmas tree growing and growing until it turned into a giant fir tree in the land of snow. This is from the ENB's website - I hope I'm allowed to copy it here.

" Above all the history of English National Ballet is entwined with that of The Nutcracker. Markova and Dolin loved performing the pas de deux in their gala programmes and from the Company's first performance at Southsea on 14 August 1950, Act II, 'The Kingdom of Sweets' was part of the repertoire. A complete production was mounted for the first season at the Stoll Theatre in London and a succession of productions by Lichine, Carter, Hynd, Schaufuss, Stevenson and Deane have made the Company's Christmas season unimaginable without this well-loved work which was remarkably little known 50 years ago"

I loved the version that was performed by the Birmingham Royal Ballet some years ago. It was also Peter Wright's choreography, but it was different from the RB's current version that I have on DVD. Looking it up I discovered that the RB are still basically doing (with adjustments) the version Wright did for them in 1984, whilst the BRB version was choreographed by Wright in 1990. Nureyev's 1968 version for the Royal Ballet was very different from the other versions around in England at the time. There is an interview with Ninette de Valois as part of a Youtube clip of the Grand Pas de Deux. In it she says that she believes it was based on the Kirov version. It probably was. One unusual element in Nureyev's version was that Merle Park (aged 31) danced both Clara and the Sugar Plum Fairy and I believe that Nureyev danced both the Prince and Drosselmeyer!!!!!!!

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I would very much like to see the Cuban Classical Ballet's production of Nutcracker---just to see how close it is to the BRdMC version. Their PDD is as I remember it from the BRdMC. and also from Ballet Theatre.

t is indeed, atm711. Alonso, in her fierce effort not to change a bit of what she imported, even left the truncated passage of music in the Adagio, which omits some bars right before the back bend lifts. I always wondered the reasons of the omission until I was told that what we were hearing was the arrangement done for the BRdMC staging. The truncated fragment starts at 2:44 in this clip.

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I am not sure that there was much of a tradition of the Nutcracker at Covent Garden before Peter Wright's 1984 production. There do not seem to been any performances of it at the Royal Opera House until Nureyev's 1968 production and that production was not performed only at Christmas. In fact Christmas Past at Covent Garden seems considerably more interesting than Christmas Present

Before the Nureyev production the consensus seemed to be that while the score is probably the greatest of Tchaikovsky's ballet scores the choreography was not of comparable quality.Nureyev's production was clearly based on the version that he knew from his time at the Kirov.The link between the two acts,at least by the time that I first saw it, was created by Clara's relatives appearing in the divertisements in the second act. A bad case if too much party and too much excitement. It was a production that appealed to adults and children although some thought it rather dark. Several seasons elapsed between the final performance of that production and the first performance of Peter Wright's production. Although it is now a staple of the repertory I think that quite a few people were disappointed by it when they first saw it. I know that several people were amused by a report that de Valois when asked what she thought of the new production had said words to the effect that she could see no reason to replace the Nureyev production because it was excellent and the best she knew of.

Sir Peter's production lovingly tended by him has now acquired the patina of age and authenticity and no doubt there will be an outcry when it is finally pensioned off.The changes to the choreography which Sir Peter has made, since 1984, enable Clara and Hans Peter to play an active part in both acts. Clara is now played by a company member rather than by a student from the school.

Pre 1968 the company seemed to rub along quite well at Christmas with Cinderella and ballets other than Nutcracker.. As to what the 1930's productions looked like the ICA Classics DVD of Fonteyn and Somes dancing Tchaikovsky Ballet Masterpieces may provide a clue..

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I know that Peter Wright is credited with the choreography for the 1958 film. Perhaps his autobiography will cast some light on what is his and what derives from Sergeyev's pre war productions.It is quite possible that Peter Wright's choreographic input was limited to rearranging things so that the dancers were in the right position for the cameras,which were far from mobile then, rather than altering the steps that were danced.I think that is probably the reason why de Valois gets a credit for the Royal Ballet's Coppelia which had been set for the Sadler's Well's stage.

I recognise that Markova and Dolin introduced the Christmas Nutcracker tradition to London. I have always thought that it was a mistake to make it such a regular feature at Covent Garden, where it now graces the stage four years out of five.I recognise that a revival was inevitable this year because of Sir Peter Wright's ninetieth birthday. A little more variety at Christmas would do us all a lot of good. Coppelia has not been seen at Covent Garden for some years and then there is Cinderella.

Mashinka do you know whether Mona Ingoldsby ever staged the Nutcracker? It seems to me that someone needs to write an inclusive history of ballet in Britain in the twentieth century by which I mean one that is not just a history of the Royal Ballet.I know that there is a general lack.of interest in ballet history but such a book is needed. It would be beneficial to us all to put de Valois and her company into context by showing what other people were doing at the time. It would need to discuss the work of people like Ingoldsby and Darrell,and of companies like Ballet Rambert as a classical company and Western Theatre Ballet which became Scottish Ballet. There might be difficulty in finding a publisher but that does not mean that such a book is not needed.

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Do you mean Mona Inglesby? Her company was only active in the 1940's and I believe she choreographed new works for it. They certainly danced classics, I can find mention of SL & SB, not sure about Nutcracker though. Nikolai Sergeyev worked with her so presumably classic productions were his.

I agree with the need for a history of British Ballet, though not sure if the interest exists in the UK. In the main I find it is American ballet lovers that are interested in the history of the art in general. Perhaps an approach to an American publisher would be easier.

By the way, I always thought Nureyev's production was one for the adults whereas others aim for the younger audience.

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Ashton's Casse Noisette was created for the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet's first US tour in 1951. It was in two scenes and omitted any story element. According to the Birmingham Royal Ballet website it included Ashton's choreography for the Snowflake and The Kingdom of the Sweets.

When Sadler's Wells Ballet became the resident company at Covent Garden de Valois created a new company as a training ground for young dancers. This second company originally called Sadler's Wells Opera Ballet, which suggests that it was providing dancers for the opera company resident at Sadler's Wells, had by the time of the 1951 tour become known as the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet.

There is no indication in the Royal Opera House Performance Database, which is far from complete, that Ashton's Casse Noisette was ever danced at Covent Garden by either the resident company or by Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet.

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FLOSS, I think you can be certain that Ashton's Casse Noisette was never danced at Covent Garden - the SW Theatre Ballet only danced it in the UK for about 3 years and that was long before they ever appeared at the ROH, and the redsident company never danced it at all. (By the way, do you use the listings and statistics at the back of Alexander Bland's book on the first 50 years of the RB? I find them far more complete and accurate than anything online for this sort of thing!)

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JANE, Thank you for that information. I thought that Casse Noisette did not stay in the repertory of Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet for very long.It is good to have confirmation on that point. I sometimes wonder where the ROH recruit the staff who put information about productions on their website and how long they stay. It would appear that whoever it was who put the article together failed to identify Antoinette Sibley as one of the three dancers in the photograph of Sibley, Dowell and Nureyev which was included in it.This leads me to suspect that the same people are probably also involved in putting the ballet programmes together because the production photographs in them frequently fail to identify the dancers correctly.

It seems to me that whoever was responsible for the article was so taken with the idea that Nutcracker is an essential part of Christmas at Covent Garden and has been since the year dot that they failed to understand that the photographs of the 1951 production were nothing to do with what was happening at the Royal Opera House. While Nureyev was the first person to stage a full length Nutcracker for the Royal Ballet at Covent Garden it was not a regular part of Christmas at the Royal Ballet until Dowell's directorship. I have always thought that not only was it lazy programming on his part and even lazier programming on the part of his successors to programme Nutcracker at Christmas, year in and year out, but unfair on the ENB. After all ENB relies on its box office takings at Christmas to cover its touring losses.As the Royal Ballet does not undertake domestic tours it has always seemed particularly mean spirited for the Covent Garden company to enter into direct competition with one of the few classical companies which does.It is not as if the Royal Ballet has no other ballets it could programme at Christmas.

You mention the Alexander Bland history of the Royal Ballet's first Fifty Years. I have a copy but it is in storage at present. So the answer to your question is yes and no.

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Interesting discussion about Sadler's Wells Theatre and non-Theatre, about which there was a little confusion and disappointment during the 1951-1952 US tour. Lots of press releases had to be issued saying it was the "sister" company, not a junior company. People were expecting to see Moira Shearer and Margot Fonteyn, instead of the "charming, youthful, buoyant, capable company" (:Ballet Annual 1953) that appeared.

According to the New York Times, the new Ashton "Nutcracker" premiered in England in September three weeks before the US 65(!) city tour, which ended, not started, in New York. "Nutcracker" seemed to be less well received or overlooked here, while the other Ashtons were well liked. As reviewed, this "Nutcracker" seemed to have consisted of two acts and three scenes: Kingdom of Snow with the King and Queen; Waltz of Flowers; Sugar Plum Fairy Sequence and Palace of Sweets, with at least the Chinese divertissement. Here's the LA Times review of Albert Goldberg:

Cordial Crowd Greets Sadler’s Wells Group

Dec 26, 1951 Los Angeles Times

It was evident even in the opening bill that the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet has its own notions about things and is no slavish admirer of tradition. The two scenes from “Nutcracker”, which opened the program entirely eliminate the story of the ballet and place the stress upon the purely formal elements of the original choreography of Ivanov, which Frederick Ashton has considerably touched up.

The airy decor of Cecil Beaton, which passes from the cool black and white of the Kingdom of Ice through a vernal interlude to the wine tinged cockle shell motif of the Kingdom of the Sweets, provides an admirable setting for this type of dancing ...

Beaton’s costumes, too, added a neo-classic touch that is quite disarming, though the silken breeches for some of the men do not seem the most practical idea ever invented for dancing wear. But none of this interfered with the dancing, which, if it did not all strike fire, was uniformly able.

The New YorkTimes

A Backward Glance at Sadler’s Wells

John Martin, Apr 6, 1952

... Actually, the Sadler’s Wells Theatre Ballet is a vital unit in the Sadler’s Wells organization as a whole. It is smaller in size and younger in personnel than the major company, and it devotes itself more to short and experimental work. Its functions, apart from its specific contribution to the opera season at the Sadler’s Wells Theatre, would seem to be in the main to supply the parent company with finished dancers when it needs them, and to discover new choreographic talent.

… In the matter of repertoire, it keeps alive any number of British classics too small in dimensions to fit into the larger spaces to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, yet intrinsically important not to be allowed to die.

One reassuring quality is the evidence of an established and admirable British technical style … As to the repertoire, Cranko’s “Pastorale” and “Harlequin in April” are both stimulating new works, and Frederick Ashton’s “Capriol Suite,” “Rendezvous” and “Facade” are outstanding old ones.

... There is still not much to be said for the present version of “Casse Noisette”, though to be sure, Miss Fifield dances it with dainty elegance and a fine, clean line.

Anatole Chujoy in Ballet Annual 1953 had reservations about the costumes: "The Nutcracker, of which New York saw only the last act, was not well staged and abominably dressed in a set and costumes by Cecil Beaton at his fanciest, with no regard whatsoever for the dancer." He also mentioned that Cranko's "Pineapple Poll, hugely enjoyed by this writer, was not so successful with American audiences as had been anticipated and hoped for."


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The thing that constantly surprises me about the SW Theatre Ballet at that time is just how young the dancers were - at the premiere of the Ashton Casse Noisette, Fifield was 20, Blair 19 and Beriosova 18 - and it was already a year since the three of them had created the leads in a new Balanchine ballet (not a very good one, by the sound of it, but Balanchine even so) and 6 months since Blair and Fifield had created 2 of British ballet's most enduringly successful characters in Cranko's Pineapple Poll. Dancing in that company in its first 20 years or so must have been grindingly hard work but they had opportunities way beyond what teenage dancers could hope for these days.

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I could not agree more about the opportunities that the old touring company gave to young dancers and choreographers. I think that David Wall said that when he first arrived at Covent Garden he was in awe of his new colleagues until he realised that he had danced more Siegfrieds than any of his colleagues who were dancing it there had.

SWTB and its successors gave opportunities for young dancers to dance an extremely wide repertory from the nineteenth century classics, pre war works such as Capriol Suite, Les Rendezvous and Les Patineurs right the way through to the latest works created by its own choreographers and by Ashton. It enabled young dancers and choreographers to learn stage craft and make mistakes away from the glare of publicity. Something singularly lacking at present. I know that Ashton created a pas de six for act 1 for the touring company's Swan Lake which I am told was very beautiful.The interesting thing as far as I am concerned is the number of Important dancers who served their apprenticeship there.

There was an obvious decline of standards in the main company which started to show during the later years of MacMIllan's directorship although it was not too obvious because he was able to make his major works on dancers who had been trained and formed by De Valois and Ashton. If I were asked to identify the causes of the decline I would say first de Valois' failure to secure the continued services of Vera Volkova and second MacMillan agreeing to disband the touring company. I know that it was replaced by the New Group which was supposed to bring choreographic enlightenment to the provinces but it probably put more people off ballet for life than it recruited to the cause.Eventually it was replaced by the Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet but it took time for it to acquire the nineteenth century classics and its remit did not include acting as a feeder for the main company. Arguably the gap in development opportunities for both dancers and choreographers still affects the company to this day.

While I recognise that a company resident at an opera house has to mount a significant number of full length ballets every year those in charge of the Covent Garden company seem to lack the vision to adjust the repertory to include the delightful ballets that helped develop the Vic Wells company and Peter Wright's Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet. It has always seemed to me that a formula which worked very effectively for those two companies would work equally well at Covent Garden.It would not be a complete cure all but it would certainly help.Putting on ballets that are technically and stylistically challenging but don't carry the weight of performance history such as the Two Pigeons is a good start except we have had too many dancers cast who don't require development opportunities and ticket sales have been poor. This combined with the out and out critical failures such as Raven Girl, Connectomes and Acosta's Carmen is likely to result in the AD having less freedom over programming in the coming seasons, So we will be back to the same limited range of works programmed regularly with the annual Ashton mixed bill of rarities that should be staple repertory works and all the works restored to the stage by Mason will slip back into the shadows.

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"capable" -- ouch!

But this: "One reassuring quality is the evidence of an established and admirable British technical style … As to the repertoire, Cranko’s “Pastorale” and “Harlequin in April” are both stimulating new works, and Frederick Ashton’s “Capriol Suite,” “Rendezvous” and “Facade” are outstanding old ones." just makes me sigh -- can't someone bring these works back around again?

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The powers that be at Covent Garden have recently invited audience suggestions of works for revival which have long been out of the repertory. Needless to say there have been many requests for the revival of works which are seen quite regularly and far fewer for rarely performed works which today means most of the Ashton repertory, all of the Diaghilev repertory and anything which suggests that MacMillan was quite an able classical choreographer.Ashton gets a mixed bill most years but he is deemed old fashioned and far less exciting than MacMillan. Wheeldon, Scarlett and McGregor who is regarded as a master choreographer in some quarters.


Now while Kevin O' Hare recently referred to MacMillan's works as company classics he has said that Ashton is central to the repertory. We are still waiting to see just how central, central is in the context of the Ashton repertory. In May we had stunning performances of Fille from Morera. Muntagirov and Kay and we have just had a run of Two Pigeons with both Monotones I and II and another run of Pigeons is due after Christmas with Rhapsody as its companion piece.

Of the works mentioned in Ballet Annual I suspect that Cranko's Pastorale and Harlequin in April are incapable of revival but I may be being unduly pessimistic. I have no idea of the extent of the Cranko repertory conserved by the Stuttgart Company.I know that it is more committed to looking after its Cranko repertory than either of the Royal Ballet companies are in conserving and performing Ashton's works.

Birmingham Royal Ballet has some Ashton works in its repertory including Fille and Two Pigeons. In 2014 it danced Facade. Les Rendezvous and Dante Sonata in a mixed bill .The Royal Ballet last danced Facade in the 1990's and Les Rendezvous in the 2004-2005 season. The Birmingham performances of Facade and Les Rendezvous which I saw were not cast with as much care as I should have liked.Les Rendezvous is currently saddled with a ghastly re-design which makes a nonsense of Ashton's floor plan because there is a big empty space at the back of the stage rather than park railings and a set of gates and dresses the dancers in truly hideous costumes. However weak the Chappell re-designs were thought to be their replacements are inept.The new designs destroy the mood of the ballet created by its setting and Chappell's vaguely nineteenth century costumes. The men now wear boaters and blazers which suggest the 1920's and the world of Facade and the women wear 1950's style full skirted polka dot decorated dresses and look as if they are wearing washing up gloves..

As far as Capriol Suite is concerned Sadler's Wells Royal Ballet danced it in the 1980's so it must have been notated . I can't remember whether it was part of the celebrations of the company's first fifty years or whether it was part of the celebrations of Ashton's eightieth birthday either seems possible.I went to see it not expecting too much. It is after all a very early work and knowing that it owes its origins to an early dance manual suggests that it will be dutiful rather than interesting. It is a gem of wit and invention, It is going to be one of the works that I suggest should be revived. If Ashton's choreography for Monotones can entrance an audience then Capriol Suite should be equal to the task as well. .

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