Magazine article The Spectator

Style and Content

Magazine article The Spectator

Style and Content

Article excerpt

In his Choreography Observed, one of the best dance books ever published, Jack Anderson classifies dance-goers in two categories: dancer-watchers and choreography-watchers. According to the eminent critic, the latter group includes those who are interested mainly in the text of the work performed and not in the interpreter's bravura -- which is, instead, what dancer-watchers go for. Whether those responsible for programming dance evenings are aware of this classification and act accordingly, in order to please both categories, it is difficult to say. There is little doubt, however, that the Birmingham Royal Ballet's new triple bill is mostly a tribute to the art of choreography, for each of the three ballets stands out more for its texture than for the technical/interpretative possibilities offered to the dancers.

Frederick Ashton's Symphonic Variations is the quintessence of British ballet's neoclassicism. As such, this plotless work requires a careful rendition that leaves little or no space for the performer's interpretative freedom. A wrong use of the tempi, a slight alteration of the prescribed lines particularly as far as shoulders, arms and hands are concerned, or any arbitrary adjustment to suit the contemporary technical trends spoil drastically that aura of sheer classical purity that reflects and summarises the choreographer's perception of Arcadia.

Fortunately, the performance I attended last Thursday was not as disappointing as some other restagings have been in the recent past. In spite of minor flaws that can be easily corrected with some extra coaching, each of the six dancers showed a considerable understanding of the stylistic shadings that permeate the taxing technical intricacies of the work.

The reconstruction of Ninette de Valois' The Prospect Before Us, intended as one of the many celebrations for the choreographer's 100th birthday, proved to be more than either a nostalgic plunge into a bygone golden era of British ballet or just a well chosen party piece. The 1940 work, in fact, stood out for its timeless freshness, thus demonstrating that the 'old' British repertoire has still lots to offer and that contemporary audiences are still capable of appreciating a good comedy-ballet.

De Valois' theatrical and choreographic solutions might look unchallenging to those who think of ballet as an endless and inexpressive series of acrobatic tricks, but there is no doubt that few contemporary narrative works boast the same effective immediacy of Prospect. …

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