Magazine article The Spectator

Vision in White

Magazine article The Spectator

Vision in White

Article excerpt



Ballet goers don't seem to mind the endless flow of new productions of 19th-century classic works. Every year works such as Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Giselle and the ubiquitous Nutcracker are presented to audiences worldwide with new designs, new sets, new dramaturgic readings and, in some instances, with new choreography. Yet such a lenient attitude changes drastically when it comes to the so-called modern classics, namely works created within a relatively recent past; the smallest alteration in costumes or designs triggers endless debate. It all depends on how we appropriate the history we live and witness, and how we like to set rigid, unquestionable and unbreakable rules for whatever belongs to current culture -- no matter how elusive and ambiguous the notion of a current culture is.

Take, for example, the production of Kenneth MacMillan's Manon, recently presented by English National Ballet. Originally produced by the Royal Danish Ballet, this staging looks different from the traditional one that has been so carefully preserved by the Royal Ballet. It has elicited praise and criticism among those who believe, or like to believe, that there is only one Manon.

As I have said, it is mostly a matter of 'looking different', for the designs are different but not the choreography -- as in the case of the Kirov Ballet production and of MacMillan's staging for the Paris Opéra.

Gone is the lusciously rich and dramatically claustrophobic 18th-century atmosphere originally concocted by Nicholas Georgiadis, which stands out for its modern take on both Hogarth and Gainsborough.

In this production, the spare sets, ideal for any touring company, and the light, mostly white and off-white costumes bestow a different mood on the whole narrative, adding a sort of Bergmanian touch to the whole and a different, less lugubrious view of the Enlightenment era. In my view, the overabundance of half-length tutus that appear in every act is one outstanding oddity, for this work, the quintessential expression of modern narrative ballet, does not ideally accommodate such stereotypical balletic uniform. Still, the eye adjusts itself rapidly to such novelties, even though the frilly, almost musical-comedy female costumes in the brothel scene remain hard to digest and detract considerably from the danced action. …

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