Magazine article The Spectator

Down Memory Lane

Magazine article The Spectator

Down Memory Lane

Article excerpt

Birmingham Royal Ballet Sadler's Wells Theatre

The preservation of national choreographic heritages has long been a concern of those who fear globalisation in the performing arts. Dance practitioners, dance administrators and dance academics thus resort to all sorts of devices to prevent the loss of national identity in ballet, such as conferences, study days, articles and monographic dance seasons. Whether these initiatives are successful or not, it is difficult to say. Theatre dance is notoriously ephemeral, and any attempt to bring back the past is subject to different factors, such as the constant renewal of performance practices and the ever-changing taste of audiences.

What is certain is that the boundary between careful preservation and sheer nostalgia is a dangerously blurred and thin one, as demonstrated by the triple bill of essentially English ballets presented by Birmingham Royal Ballet last week at Sadler's Wells.

Although each of the three works, Kenneth MacMillan's Solitaire (1956), Ninette de Valois's Checkmate (1937) and John Cranko's Lady and the Fool (1954), resonated choreographically with the freshness that characterises any immortal masterwork, they all lacked the theatrical drive they once had. In my view, the problem stemmed mainly from the dancers' approach to the revered choreographic texts. Birmingham Royal Ballet is a strong company, with a good number of fine artists. But it is also a predominantly 'young' one. As such, its dancers require special coaching to come to grips with choreographic styles and modes from the past. Unlike most 19th-century classics, such as Swan Lake or Sleeping Beauty, works such as the ones in this programme cannot be danced in line with the latest stylistic and technical trends. Nor can they come across fully with only a competent execution of the given steps.

I am not blaming the dancers, though, for they do what they are taught to do.

Indeed, some of them respond naturally better than others to those instructions, as in the case of Robert Parker and Kosuke Yamamoto, who gave an absolutely perfect and moving reading of Moondog and Bootface, respectively, in Lady and the Fool. Yet I am sure that other dancers, too, would have stood a better chance had they been provided with the necessary tools to understand the subtleties of each work. …

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