Magazine article The Spectator

Pure Bliss

Magazine article The Spectator

Pure Bliss

Article excerpt

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Sadler's Wells Theatre

Lucinda Childs Dance Company


Contrary to general belief, there is little glamour in the professional life of a dance critic. What there is, though, is a considerable amount of time spent confronting painfully unsuccessful attempts at making art or, at least, making something worth seeing. What makes one digest those endless stretches of choreographic drabness is the promise - sometimes the mirage - of rare moments of pure bliss. Which is what I experienced last week when, for the first time in years, I struck it lucky and sat through three superb performances in a row.

Signs that the Birmingham Royal Ballet's brief run at Sadler's Wells was going to be a hit were evident from the moment the curtain went up on its Autumn Glory programme. Created in 1937, Checkmate is Ninette de Valois's foray into Expressionism. Not unlike Kurt Jooss's The Green Table - the quintessential Expressionist work - this danced metaphor of love and death shows how British ballet, in the beginning, was experimenting with canons and formulae that did not belong to the classical idiom. It also shows de Valois's unique theatrical genius, and the inventiveness of her choreographic vision, upon which much British choreography is built.

History did not impinge on the performance I saw, however. Neither did it on the other two milestones of British ballet in the programme: Frederick Ashton's neoclassical masterwork Symphonic Variations (1946) and John Cranko's spirited 1951 Pineapple Poll. In each instance, the Birmingham Royal Ballet dancers engaged with the choreography via a unique combination of interpretative drive, stylistic understanding and technical accuracy.

The subtle intricacies of the choreography in Checkmate thus came to the fore, and Victoria Marr's intense performance made the bloodstained rise of the Black Queen fully credible to a contemporary audience. …

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