Magazine article The Spectator

Ballet and the Bard

Magazine article The Spectator

Ballet and the Bard

Article excerpt

The initial sight of Disney-style dancing fairies with iridescent wings twirling among an equally multicoloured horde of balletically tamed children might be slightly offputting, unless you revel in the sickening Christmas sugariness of The Nutcracker. Yet as soon as the eyes recover from the garishness of the new designs, one realises why George Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream is worth preserving, performing and seeing.

Although the play has inspired myriad dance-makers since the end of the 18th century, only a few have managed to create true masterworks. The problematic and often unattainable translatability of the play into dance much affects the dramatic depth of any ballet based on it. Deprived of the original text's poetic richness, the wellknown story becomes one of those muchcriticised, feeble fairy-tales on which most 19th-century ballet classics rely. It is the choreographer, therefore, who must make up for the lack of intensity by creating or `re-creating' a dramatically sound dance text that transcends the mere narration of the events.

I know I am not alone in thinking that choreographic narrativism - that is, the ability of conferring some depth on to both the characters and the events portrayed in a story-ballet - has never been one of Balanchine's strengths. His treatment of Shakespeare's story, though, cannot be dismissed as a superficial translation of the plot into a ballet story, even though the choreographic/dramatic depiction of the protagonists is never more than two-dimensional. In using the story as a pretext for some exceptional dance sequences, Balanchine paid a direct tribute to the glorious tradition of the Russian Imperial Ballet of the late-19th century, in which his art, both as a dancer and a choreographer, was deeply rooted.

There is little doubt, therefore, that of all the Balanchinian creations that refer to that bygone golden era, A Midsummer Night's Dream is the one most overtly in line with the formulae of Marius Petipa, the French ballet master who created and masterminded the Russian Imperial Ballet. A comparative analysis of Balanchine's 1962 creation and The Sleeping Beauty, unanimously considered the most representative work of Petipa's ballets, reveals many similarities, particularly in structure. …

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