Magazine article The Spectator

Russian Challenge

Magazine article The Spectator

Russian Challenge

Article excerpt


Russian challenge

Celebrating Diaghilev

Royal Opera House

The ballets originally staged between 1909 and 1929 under the now legendary Ballets Russes label are a blessing for any dance company. Apart from the aura of magic that still lingers around them, these titles remain perfect examples of a vibrant interaction between dance, music and the fine arts. As such, they are among the few titles of the ballet repertoire to be regarded by conservative balletomanes and dance modernists as not strictly 'balletic' in its most negative sense (i.e. pink tutus, flying fairies, etc.). Add to this the fact that these works are not the copyrighted property of any money-spinning ballet trust, they do not require a cast of thousands and can stand out even without the likes of Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina and you have the ideal stuff to fill a fairly hassle-free, sell-out programme.

Alas, the supposed approachability of the Ballets Russes repertoire has often generated dubious tributes to the genius of Diaghilev, the impresario of the legendary company; no wonder that, in some dance circles, a 'Diaghilev evening' has become synonymous with an 'absolute turkey'.

Luckily, the new Royal Ballet programme Celebrating Diaghilev is not a complete turkey, though it is not a total winner either. The biggest mistake was to kick off with Frederick Ashton's 1951 version of Ravel's Daphnis et Chloë, which, despite being a classic of British choreography, has little in common with the artistic tenets of Diaghilev. It clashes with the rest of the chronologically ordered programme - Le Spectre de la rose (1911), L'Après-midi d'un faune (1912) and Les Noces (1923). And it is no use claiming that this is Ashton's reading of an original Ballets Russes work, for the alleged link is too far-fetched and arbitrary.

I also wish that a salient work such as Le Spectre de la rose had been staged with more historical care, for it came across as a hotch-potch of chronologically different performing practices and traditions. …

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