Magazine article The Spectator

Time Warp

Magazine article The Spectator

Time Warp

Article excerpt

Nothing ages so quickly as a metaphorical ballet. Loosely based on Kipling's The Jungle Book, the narrative of Antony Tudor's 1967 Shadowplay is symptomatic of its time. Themes such as a young man's rite of passage, social interaction, political and philosophical choices were fashionable in the late Sixties, when old and traditional values were being questioned, criticised and revised.

The unrest of a young individual coming to terms with an environment ruled by opposing beings, the 'arboreals', 'terrestrials', 'aerials' and 'celestials', was a fascinating theme more than 30 years ago, when the eurocentric perception of man's role within society was beginning to be rethought in the light of non-European religions, philosophies and disciplines. Thirty-three years later, however, the overwhelming symbolism of the work fails to provoke the reactions it once elicited from ballet-goers.

Those who are too young to have experienced those changes might feel puzzled by the central theme, which has little to do with their culture, while those who lived through the revolutionary Sixties have simply had enough of both those themes and their metaphorical representations. This is a pity, for the choreographic genius of Tudor, one of the greatest 20th-century dance makers, is still detectable here and there in some choreographic sections as well as in the dramatic twists that punctuate the action. Indeed, had the ballet been performed with stylistic accuracy and dramatic conviction on the opening night of the Royal Ballet's triple bill, the whole work would have probably looked less dated.

Apart from some irritating co-ordination problems, the general dancing suffered considerably from the lack of familiarity and confidence that members of the company have with Tudor's style, given that his works have long been absent from the company's repertoire. Many of the choreographer's characteristic trademarks were missing. Tudor insisted a great deal on a particular expressive use of the upper part of the body and, in particular, on a fluid, yet balletically unconventional use of the arms, a subtle use of epaulement (shoulders' movement) and a perfectly considered use of the head and neck. None of these features informed the performance I saw, despite some good moments and the good dancing of the three principal characters. …

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