Magazine article The Spectator

Stylistic Hotchpotch

Magazine article The Spectator

Stylistic Hotchpotch

Article excerpt

Dance

Pacific Northwest Ballet (Sadler's Wells)

According to some sources, Ballets Russes' legendary impresario Diaghilev was the first person to plan a ballet set to a score made up entirely of popular songs, after having befriended Cole Porter in Venice. Although the project folded for a number of reasons, it was not long before some illustrious dance makers had a second and more successful go at marrying popular music with ballet, conventionally considered as an elitist and culturally exclusive form of high art. By the end of the 20th century, the number of choreographic masterworks set to tunes by Gershwin, Porter and Queen or to the songs commonly associated with Edith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and Prince was considerable.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Ken Stowell's 1998 Silver Lining, dubbed a ballet `celebrating the genius of Jerome Kern', was originally conceived in line with such a well-affirmed tradition. It's a pity that, unlike George Balanchine, Maurice Bejart, Roland Petit and William Forsythe, to name but a few who have successfully created ballets set to famous songs or tunes, Stowell has not managed to move away from the narrative, stylistic and time-specific constraints of the selected music. The two-act ballet, with which Pacific Northwest Ballet opened last week in London, is a rather tiresome, uninventive and stylistically debatable series of danced numbers that, in pure revue style, match and accompany some of Kern's most famous songs, some of which are sung live on stage.

From the very first scene, the not-so-subtle combination of ballet steps and musichall dancing fails to impress. Although the various members of the company do their best to switch seamlessly between genres, their inevitable limitations remain embarrassingly evident throughout. As a choreographer of the Parisian Moulin Rouge once told me after having rejected a too obviously `ballet-trained' girl at an audition, `there is a clear difference between a high kick and its balletic equivalent, a grand battement. The movement might be similar, but the dynamic quality and the artistic approach are worlds apart. Try to do one with the other in mind and you will look ridiculous. …

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