Magazine article The Spectator

Stavinsky Thrill

Magazine article The Spectator

Stavinsky Thrill

Article excerpt


Triple Bill (Royal Opera House)

Stravinsky thrill

Giannandrea Poesio Triple bills are seldom a treat but the Royal Ballet's all-Stravinsky one is, an exception. Within this context, even an old chestnut such as The Firebird looked as if it had been given new life. Far from being an historical celebration, the new programme is a succinct, thoroughly enjoyable tribute to the composer who showed the world that there is more to ballet music than some catchy oom-pah-pah. Indeed, the success of the evening relies greatly on the superb way John Carewe draws glorious sounds from the orchestra of the Royal Opera House, thus proving that ballet performances and serious conducting are perfectly compatible. The dancing is first rate too, even though, on the night I went, things did not run as smoothly as they might have.

As I have already said, The Firebird is one of those unsinkable examples of early 20th-century choreographic art that keeps being revived because of an alleged respect for an idealised tradition. Do not get me wrong: I have a profound respect for Michel Fokine and for his famous five principles on dance making, published in a memorable letter to the Times in 1914. What I question, however, is to what extent those five points are still readable in revivals such as this one.

In my opinion, the problem lies mainly in the contemporary interpretative approach. I find it difficult to accept the purely Swan Lake mime gestures with which the ballerina expresses herself, considering that in expounding the principles mentioned above Fokine criticised and somehow rejected the use of that idiom. And I do not care if those gestures are the same as those that have been carefully passed on from generation to generation since the ballet was restaged for the Royal company by Sergej Grigoriev and Lubov Tchernitcheva, two original members of Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. They look artistically and historically out of place. Besides, if memory does not fail me, they never were that mechanically Swan-Lakeish.

Similarly, I do not understand why the evil sorcerer Kotschej should become a comic character. According to source material, the original role was anything but comic. Finally, I would have liked to have seen dancers approach that exquisite and typically Fokinian mixture of folk dance and ballet vocabulary with more credibility and with a deeper understanding of its historical and artistic significance. …

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