Magazine article The Spectator

Unhappy Pairing

Magazine article The Spectator

Unhappy Pairing

Article excerpt

The Dream; Song of the Earth (Royal Ballet) Theoretically, both the artistic choices and the reasons for the creation of double, triple and mixed ballet bills should become clear by the time the evening is over. Alas, this is not always the case, as the new Royal Ballet double-feature programme demonstrated last Saturday.

Despite being representative works of the two major British choreographic strands of the mid-1960s, Frederick Ashton's The Dream and Kenneth MacMillan's Song of the Earth are too stylistically and thematically different to be an ideal match. Nor do they create one of those striking juxtapositions that programme-makers resort to whenever they are short of ideas. The two ballets, therefore, end up looking as if they had been hastily thrown together with little or no consideration for the detrimental effects that the oddity of the combination has on each.

Not unlike La Fille Mal Garde, created by Ashton in 1960, The Dream, premiered in 1964, is permeated with witty nostalgia. Derived and adapted from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, the ballet highlights Ashton's unique narrative talent as well as his ability to create an outstandingly fluid choreographic text by mixing together disparate ingredients. Recognisable solutions from the Romantic ballet repertoire, visual references to both Victorian iconography and Victorian theatre, and characteristic popular dance movements from the 1960s mingle beautifully in a crescendo of parody, comedy and sheer lyricism. Thirtyseven years after its creation, the choreography of The Dream is still looking daringly innovative thanks to the chiaroscuro of the movement vocabulary, which highlights the contrast between the free supernatural beings and the intentionally stereotyped mortals, depicted here as two-dimensional types.

Song of the Earth, on the other hand, is neither a narrative nor a text-bound dance work, even though it draws upon Mahler's celebrated song cycle. In line with the revolutionary formulae that informed the European dance scene in 1965, MacMillan's creation is a psychological/allegorical ballet that lends itself to myriad subjective readings. In this work, too, the movement vocabulary stands out for being a mixture of pure classical formulae and more pedestrian-like movements, similar to the ones frequently adopted by Maurice Bejart, the undisputed father of European 'modern' ballet. …

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