Magazine article The Spectator

Flawed Reading

Magazine article The Spectator

Flawed Reading

Article excerpt

Dance

Flawed reading

Dance Theatre of Harlem

Sadler's Wells Theatre

Arthur Mitchell is known worldwide as the founder and artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem, the company with which he proved that ballet has no racial boundaries. Mitchell was also one of New York City Ballet's finest dancers and an acclaimed interpreter of George Balanchine's choreography. One would thus expect him to pass on to his dancers his deep, first-hand knowledge of Balanchine's art. Pity that what I saw last week shattered any such expectations.

A seriously flawed reading of some of the most representative works of Balanchine's vast production was particularly evident in the second of the three programmes that the Dance Theatre of Harlem is currently presenting at Sadler's Wells. Of the three works presented within the 'all Balanchine' evening, only the middle one, the 1929 Prodigal Son, looked fairly in line with the principles of what is commonly perceived as Balanchine's style, even though this narrative ballet suffered considerably from a colourless interpretative approach. Duncan Cooper, as the eponymous character, failed to convey the varied palette of feelings and emotions that the Prodigal goes through within the 32 minutes of danced action. Nor did his seductress, Caroline Rocher as the Siren, manage to project the refined neo-classical sensuality the part calls for. Their 'love-making' duet thus became one of the most erotically challenged expressions of sex on stage that I have seen in more than 35 years as a dance-goer.

Curiously, an unnecessarily over-the-top interpretation characterised the other two items on the programme, Apollo and Agon, with dire results. Created in 1928 for Diaghilev's legendary Ballets Russes - and not for the Ballets Russes de Montecarlo as written in the cast sheet - what was once Apollon Musagéte is a choreographic tribute to ballet's neo-classical aesthetics. As such, the work draws upon a streamlined allegorical narrative expressed by carefully conceived balletic ideas and a discreet use of expressive movements and gestures. Apollo, in other words, does not require any additional acting, for all there is to express is already in the choreographic text. It's a shame that the Dance Theatre of Harlem dancers did not seem to have any knowledge of that and felt free to add a few 'interpretative' touches. …

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