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"Leaves" in London


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Antony Tudor's "The Leaves Are Fading" received its premiere with London's Royal Ballet last week, with Cojocaru in the role created by Gelsey Kirkland. Would any of our Londoners care to comment? Did you like it? How did it go over?

I read some of the British reviews and was struck how many of them mentioned that they were appalled by the new marketing trick of calling a program "Memories" and lumping three rather similar works on the same bill. Once upon a time (aka inthegoodolddays) a triple bill was supposed to provide a contrast, something for everyone. I'd be interested in your comments on that issue as well.

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Alexandra, 'Leaves' seemed interminably long and there was insufficient contrast between it and the first work in the programme 'Beyond Bach' by Stephen Baynes. It has been harshly received here, with Clement Crisp of the Financial Times recalling that at the time ABT premiered it, some thought to rename it "The Fades are Leaving". While I thought there was some exquisite writing, the piece was some ten minutes too long - and when the lead couples come on stage for a second time, I couldn't but help think, "but we've had this".

Programmed differently it might have been better received, but the set-design and costumes have not weathered well.

What has angered some of us is the fact that Bayne's ballet 'Beyond Bach' had an entire section dropped from several performances, without the audience being told. The section in question was quite central to the architecture of the ballet. Each cast demanded four principals and two soloists with matching body symmetries. Injuries took their inevitable toll and the two casts for 'Bach' were not interchangeable. It was understandable in one sense that the section in question was dropped; what was unacceptable in my eyes was that audiences were not told. I could not imagine a movement from a symphony or a concerto being dropped without some hint to an audience, or a triptych becoming a diptych with no word of apology from an art gallery. It seemed to me to show spectacular contempt both for the art form and for the audience.

[ February 10, 2002: Message edited by: Brendan McCarthy ]

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Thanks, Brendan. Cutting a piece in that manner does seem -- how does one say this nicely? -- to show contempt for the audience: they don't know enough to care.

Injuries can be cause to scuttle a ballet, but if it weren't a "Memories" program, a company could scoot in another opening ballet, if there were no alternative to the scheduled cast. I must say the "Memories" marketing caused me to raise an eyebrow. It's what's done here in smaller companies, dancing in cities with no arts tradition who are trying to build an audience. They program "Dracula" for Hallowe'en and "Romeo and Juliet" for Valentine's Day. "Take Mom to the ballet" they'll say for their Mother's Day program of pink sugar ballets. I have no inside information, and may be completely off-base by saying this, but "Memories" looks like program by marketing, that they've done an audience survey and are trying to bifurcate the audience into the 50-plus crowd (who, of course, must only like schmaltz and nostalgia) and the 30-and-under-crowd (who, of course, must only like loud music and sex. That leaves know what you're supposed to do if you're between 30 and 50. I was very glad the critics all pounced on this. London isn't Dry Gulch (with apologies to Dry Gulch.)

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A humbling experience for an American, living in something that calls itself a world capital but has only two daily newspapers, to do a links search for reviews of one particular program. I do believe there are more dance critics in London than there are dancers! I don't know if this is an exhaustive list -- I couldn't find John Percival's review. At least, I don't think I did. It may be in here somewhere! If anyone has another link, please feel free to post it.


Clement Crisp gets right to the point:

Two duds out of three for the price of one:

In what seems to be a mysterious exercise in public relations, the Royal Ballet has taken to giving its triple bills winsome little titles. The first of these, unveiled on Saturday night, is Memories.

Memories is, to be blunt, an unhappy thing, comprising bought-in goods and a House favourite (Marguerite and Armand) serving as vehicle for foreign stars. If this is the Royal Ballet, then we are in for a bad time - but that, I fear, is what we have known over the past decade. It may be that the company's Australian director, Ross Stretton, believes that the Australian Stephen Baynes has something choreographically to offer with his Beyond Bach, which begins the evening. I am damned if I can see what it is.


Ismene Brown found "Memories" a bit mushy:

With this programme, the new director Ross Stretton's vision begins to emerge, and it looks a bit luvvie-ish. There is a well-crafted, unremarkable Bach ballet that Stretton commissioned when directing Australian Ballet, from Stephen Baynes, and has now imported to London for no obvious reason. There is a nostalgic late work by the British exile Antony Tudor, The Leaves are Fading, to some of Dvorak's more sugary music. And there is Ashton's purple riot of tragic passion, Marguerite and Armand, once the exclusive property of Fonteyn and Nureyev, but recently dynamited into scalding new life by Sylvie Guillem and Paris Opera Ballet's Nicolas Le Riche


Debra Craine wasn't too pleased either:

Familiar déjà view

Ballets from Antony Tudor and Stephen Baynes make for mixed memories at Covent Garden

Ross Stretton, the Royal Ballet’s new director, is keen to show us that he can programme a mixed bill that does more than lump three ballets together. His mixed bills are to have a theme, a single idea that will link his chosen ballets, no matter who made them, no matter when they were made.

It’s a clever way to market one-act ballets, but it does run the risk of giving the audience too much of the same thing. Which is what happened on Saturday with Memories, Stretton’s first triple bill for Covent Garden. Remembrance of things past shapes a trio of ballets by Frederick Ashton, Antony Tudor and the Australian newcomer Stephen Baynes, and it’s a lot of wistfulness to take on board in a single viewing.


Memories are Made of This

Nadine Meissner has a thing or two to say about the new triple bill packaging:

IN ACCORDANCE with the arts-marketing wisdom that requires mixed ballet programmes to possess a linking theme and title, Ross Stretton's first triple bill as director of the Royal Ballet is called Memories. All three works look back in one way or another: on life and love, or, as in the case of Stephen Baynes's debut with the company, on ballet itself.


Jenny Gilbert doesn't like the new packaging much either:

A Bad Case of False Memory Syndrome

You expect a new director to make his presence felt, but the most detectable change four months into Ross Stretton's directorship at the Royal Ballet looks like tweaking for tweaking's sake. Once there were mixed bills – three or four short ballets shown together to present contrasts of mood and style, with no particular regard to which. Now – in a move that smacks of clipboards and marketing men – every mixed bill is to be themed. "Memories" is the bland and unctuous title of the first. And two out of the three works it comprises are about as exciting as those mail-order porcelain collectibles promoted in similar fashion.


Luke Jennings found more positive things to say:

A leap into Enlightenment

The Royal Ballet: Memories - Beyond Bach, The Leaves Are Fading, Marguerite and Armand

Memories, the collective title of the Royal Ballet's new triple bill, suggests lavender-perfumed sentimentality and easily wrung tears. All the more glorious the surprise then, when, to the measured cadences of the adagio from Bach's Sonata in D, the curtain rises on one of the most beautiful and sophisticated sets ever to have framed this company. Vast columns, a spacious atrium, oblique shafts of golden light, gyroscopic chandeliers, the curling smoke of incense, skies of refulgent blue.


Jann Parry liked Marguerite and Armand (it's near the bottom, but there's an interesting review of Pina Bausch before you get there that's worth a read, IMO)

The Royal Ballet's Memories triple bill is unbalanced by Ashton's Marguerite and Armand at the end. Instead of recollected passion, this is the real thing, brought to blazing life by Sylvie Guillem and Nicolas Le Riche. Charles Barker's conducting tips their beautifully considered performances into melodrama by underlining each scene as though accompanying a silent film that had lost its subtitles. Trust the dancers: they can deliver what Kemp could only fantasise about in his Memories of a Traviata.


Judith Mackrell takes Leaves Are Fading seriously:

Antony Tudor was 66 when he choreographed The Leaves Are Fading, and the ballet seems a long way from the intemperate passions and dark visionary quirks of his radical youth. It is about an older woman gently reliving her past, and it is couched in the most decorous classical idiom. Yet as the woman's memories melt and merge, and girls and boys mature into lovers, the ballet's steps (choreographed to an arrangement of music by Dvorak) evoke a far greater range than their pretty surface suggests. The exacting detail of Tudor's imagination articulates a subtext of shivery expectancy, of fear and hunger, of powerfully coloured ecstasy that make this far more than a nostalgic watercolour. The Royal's dancers performing it for the first time on Saturday serve the ballet's complexity well.


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Alexandra, John Percival merely previewed the Stephen Baynes ballet. He hasn't reviewed the programme.

As to Ross Stretton, he has taken direct personal charge of the Royal Ballet's marketing. When he was AD at the Australian Ballet, his approach to triple bills mirrored that which he is now implementing in London. While the critics have been devastating, and there is a relatively small 'interested' dance public which has raised some questions, I do sometimes ask myself if most people who go the Royal Opera House really care one way or the other.

We do not, I think, have an educated dance audience in the way that we have an educated theatre or music audience. On Opera nights at Covent Garden, quite a number of people come clutching scores, or are very familiar with that which they are going to see. I doubt that the equivalent is true of ballet nights.

One one level dance is a very accessible form, and can be enjoyed at a fairly basic level of understanding. But it is because the dance-literate public is so minute that I feel the Opera House could contemplate the changes to the Baynes ballet in the hope that they would get away with them.

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Well, I hope the dance-literate public in London will stand up and make its presence known. Bring scores to performances if you must -- wave them defiantly -- dress in tutus, do something! smile.gif Think of this as the canary in the coal mine.

[ February 10, 2002: Message edited by: alexandra ]

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I must say I do enjoy reading British critics--I do think having so many outlets lets them be more honest--there are so many voices heard that one writer isn't giving the only thumbs up/down. I must say the whole concept of the Memories program made me gag, and if it doesn't really matter if the audience sees the complete ballet or not, I guess it is only a marketing ploy.

One thing that struck me reading the reviews of The Leaves are Fading is that it seems people felt is was basically a Robbins ballet--drowing in chiffon and woozy romantic atmosphere. (With a few major exceptions, Robbins in NOT my favorite choreographer!) I saw it years ago with Gelsey Kirkland, and it looked like Tudor, full of complex and obliquely expressed emotions. The central pas de deux she did was just heartbreaking--she danced like she was trapped in a can't live with him/can't live without him relationship, and was struggling to break free, while her partner just stood watching her helpless, and just as trapped. Their last lift, where he carried her off stage just seemed so resigned--he had her, but not completely, because she was still reaching for something else. I have never seen it done like by any other dancer--it generally does look like Robbins at his most generically romantic, but I have never forgotten that performance. I remember thinking that the walking girl at the beginning and the end seemed like a symbol of eternity, or sort of nature's lack of interest in individual suffering--it didn't seem like the cliche of love remembered. Of course, I could be reading far more into it than was there, but it was one of the greatest and most individual and heartfelt things I saw Kirkland do.

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Cargill, that's an extraordinary description of Leaves. I thought Cojocaru and Kobborg were incredible, breath-taking in the central pdd but now I feel like I'm really missing out! I did love the whole of Leaves btw. Am I one of the few who found the sets, the costumes and choreography absolutely mesmerising?

I agree though, the similarity between Bach and Leaves detracts from both. And reading the reviews the gimmick may have backfired. The house was as full as it was because of the presence of Guillem (good strategy btw - sell triple bills by sticking her on every night) but the critics must have had their effect as the audience seemed to shrink on every subsequent visit.

I liked Beyond Bach a great deal at first but it does admittedly get tedious on repeated viewings. The flatness of the choreography becomes more and more apparent. I was NOT happy at the cut. I felt short-changed when 'Air' failed to materialise. And it didn't help that the dancers looked messier than they had the week before. The night the dancers started dropping out Persson (injured) was replaced by Urlezaga (also injured) who was replaced by both Cervera AND Persson (surprise!). This very last change was not announced which made for some really confusing viewing. Seems that one was doing the partnering while the other did the solos. But it's hard not to see the funny side. We had a good laugh about it afterwards.

[ February 10, 2002: Message edited by: sylvia ]

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There is another thread on this called "Memories" I think, I put my short review there.

I liked Leaves, and thought the costumes were lovely. I didn't think it went on too long. The whole thing exuded that late-summer feeling of not wanting the days to end.

I would have liked to have seen Memories again, but hearing about the cuts and last minute cast changes, I'm almost glad I didn't - I want to remember both Beyond Bach and Leaves as being idyllic and perfect. smile.gif

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Thanks for that -- and apologies, Sylvia and Lolly. There is, indeed, a "Memories" thread that Sylvia started. I've been distracted for the last three weeks and haven't been able to read every post, as I usually do, and I missed these.

Unfortunately, with this software, we can't merge threads, but here's a link for those who'd like to read the earlier reviews:


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Alexandra, I just want to add that I too saw the RB's 'Memories' on Saturday, and loved Tudor's 'The Leaves are Fading'. Others have pointed out its similarity to the preceding work 'Beyond Bach', but since I missed this opening ballet ( I was late!) I came to the Tudor work with an unprejudiced eye. Perhaps 'Leaves' was a little whimsical, but nothing could lessen the impact of Alina Cojocaru and Johann Kobborg's partnership in the central pas-de-deux. I felt privileged to have seen it. Cojocaru seemed to be unaware of the earth as she floated through her steps, and Kobborg matched her with the calm effortlessness of his dancing. It was the first time in my thirteen or so years of ballet-watching that I have understood why people get excited about ballet partnerships.

It would be fascinating to hear from someone who has seen both Gelsey Kirkland and Alina Cojocaru in this role, but I suppose that's almost an impossibility. I've never seen Kirkland dance - only a snatch of her on video in 'Coppelia' - but I'm beginning to wonder, from what I have read of her, if she and Cojocaru are not rather similar dancers. Can anyone here comment on this?

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Ann, I found two fan pages on Kirkland with some photos:

About two-thirds down the page are two shots of Kirkland in "Leaves"


Here's another fan page:


I think Cojocaru and Kirkland are similar in that they're both prodigies (very good very young), both light, and both extremely musical. Even though I saw Kirkland at her thinnest and sickest, I don't remember her as frail. I'll always think of her in Croce's phrase, as "porcelain coated steel." I had several friends who thought of her as in the Fonteyn line. "They both had the quality of pure, clear water," as one friend explained. She changed her style when she moved to ABT, but that purity and clarity remained.

I loved her in "Leaves." I was interested in reading comments on ballet.co that the four pas de deux weren't very differentiated. In the original production they were almost *too* differentiated. Aside from Kirkland and Nagy, the dancers were corps or soloists, relatively inexperienced dancers, and when the music turned "sad," so did they; likewise, angry. But the duets seemed very different.

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