Magazine article The Spectator

Disturbing Trend

Magazine article The Spectator

Disturbing Trend

Article excerpt

I have always admired the tenacity with which Harold King led and directed what was formerly known as London City Ballet. And I have always admired his way of making appropriate artistic choices, thus securing for his company a tailor-made repertoire in which artists could be at ease and at their best. Little did I know, on my way to see the reborn City Ballet of London, that I was in for bitter disappointment.

Theme evenings are very fashionable nowadays, and `neo-classical' ones, as this triple bill is defined in the programme note, even more so. It is a pity that the notion of what constitutes 20th-century neo-classicism in ballet has gone so far astray. Almost every new plotless work with a few 'academic' ballet steps, the odd short tutu, Greek tunic or bare torso and a pseudo-rarefied atmosphere qualifies for the neo-classical label. Yet, choreographic neoclassicism goes way beyond these exterior components. Do not get me wrong, I have nothing against such ballets, for I always welcome new creations that employ the old dance idiom in a different way. I only wish that they were not paired with true masterworks of the real neo-classical genre, thus forcing the audience to establish links and parallels that are simply not there. I also wish that, having to choose one of those masterworks for obvious box-office reasons, ballet directors did not go for the over-pillaged Balanchine repertoire, particularly when their companies are not technically and artistically up to it.

Donizetti Variations, the first item of the evening, is one of the many Balanchinian tributes to a bygone balletic era. It relies on a combination of stylised 19th-century prima donna mannerisms - which evoke images of legendary stars showing off in opera-ballets - and a more carefree, yet respectful contemporary use of the ballet technique. Not unlike similar Balanchinian creations, the ballet also pays homage to the choreographic intricacies and the virtuoso technicalities of the last century. In particular, the focus here is on the influence that the French and Danish schools had on the development of Russian ballet, from where Balanchine came. It confers an almost Bournonville-like flavour on to the piece. In other words, this is a ballet that requires first-rate performers and impeccable execution. Unfortunately, what I saw was neither first-rate nor impeccable. I found it hard to believe that the ballet had been restaged by Nanette Glushak, who is an excellent reproducer of the Balanchine repertoire as well as one of the few reconstructors capable of making non-Balanchinian dancers understand and assimilate the choreographer's stylistic and technical canons. …

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