Injuries are beginning to take their toll on the company as the Royal nears the end of its run at Sadlerís Wells, and Serenade was particularly hard hit. I was particularly sorry not to see Bussell, who has appeared in very few performances in this run, or Yoshida (whose injury now means that Wildor is to dance three Ondines in two days). Cope was also sick: some complex rescheduling meant that the three lead women were Yanowsky, McDermot and Bull, supported by Inaki Urlezaga and David Pickering. Itís been a while since we have seen this gorgeous ballet in London: possibly not since 1994, when BRB brought it here. Even if the execution of the steps looked sometimes dutiful rather than inspired, the lucidity and exquisite construction of Balanchineís choreography is still plain, and I canít imagine a lovelier opening moment in any ballet than when the curtain rises on the corps. Yanowsky and McDermot both had a pleasantly creamy smoothness about them. The corps delivered some lovely moments, but there was the occasional glitch: it was instructive to compare this with Rhapsody, in which the corps (and some of them were the same dancers) delivered a much more tightly focused and polished performance.
There was a queue for returns at Sadlers for this performance, the last of the Triple bill. This was something quite pleasing to see, given the prevailing box office view that triple bills donít sell, and most particularly that triple bills containing new work donít sell. The new offering here is Tuckettís The Turn of the Screw, based on Henry Jamesí story, and set to music by Panufnik. The music is strongly atmospheric and suitably creepy, and the opening promises much. However, it is not a consistently danceable basis for the action, and the ending, which needed to be underpinned by something much more climatic, faded away rather flatly. The staging is extremely impressive, with subtle, shifting images of the country house and landscape in which the action is set projected faintly on and through gauze. (Set and lighting are by Steven Scott: he will be working on Bintleyís new Shakespeare Suite this autumn, so look out for it. )
As a narrative the action is not always easy to follow. The basic outlines of the governessí battle for the children again the evil influences of Quint and Jessel are clear enough, but a number of specific incidents seem unclear. The action features a number of times letters being received by the governess (Yanowsky) or the housekeeper (Monica Mason) and reacted to, a literary device which works much better on the page than on stage. Though it feels right to show the characters as sealed into their claustrophobic world, the audience is left feeling excluded rather than included. Itís quite a long work (40 minutes) and would have greater impact cut by ten minutes, if Tuckett could prune his source material with the same ruthlessness as, say, Macmillan did in Las Hermanas.
Perhaps we should regard Turn of the Screw as a dance drama, rather than as pure dance, because stage presence and gesture are as significant as pure dance steps. Mukhamedov as the evil Quint seems to have more dance than gesture in his role: but that may be in part that some of the other characters such as the Governess and Jessel are so heavily swathed in costume that their lines are more obscured. Both the governess and Miss Jessel are constricted by tightly fitting tops and long trailing skirts: again the tightness may aptly convey repression on the page, but on stage it is a shame to be denied a proper view of Yanowskyís eloquent legs. In dance terms though, the work comes into its own with Quint and Jesselís tormenting of the sleeping Yanowsky, throwing her in the air and dragging her about the floor, dramatising their grip on her in terms that pages of text couldnít do justice to.
The cast did a tremendous job, right down to the lascivious servants (Sasaki and Tuifa). Casting the Miles and Flora not with children but company members was the right decision - it allowed more meaty choreography for Cervera and Morera, and for the struggle to seem more evenly matched. After all the publicity about casting Bruce Sansom as Miss Jessel, it was rather hard to see quite what the fuss was about. There wasnít anything feminine or even androgynous about the performance: not at all as female as his slinky, feline King of the East in Pagodas. He was quite obviously a bloke in a dress. He didnít emanate the same magnetism as Mukhamedov as Quint, but it was an effective pairing. Irek was oddly restrained. Yanowsky danced well within the confines of her costume, but although the drama was consistently watchable, she didnít make me care enough about the outcome.
Other dance goers tell me that they liked the work much more, and understood more of what was going on, on a second or third viewing. This is fine for the real enthusiast, who is has time to attend rehearsals and is committed enough to keep coming night after night. But most dance goers will only give a new production a single viewing: the creators of the work canít necessarily rely on that level of familiarity in their audience. Turn of the Screw is an atmospheric work which doesnít quite come off. Itís still a lot more ambitious than some of Tuckettís earlier, lighter pieces, and it will be interesting to see how his work develops - he has a new work scheduled for Covent Garden next spring.
Closing the evening was Rhapsody: itís one of the few pieces of Ashton that have been a regular in the repertory over the last few years, and I had been wishing we could swap it for some other less familiar Ashton work. I take it all back - last nightís performance with Acosta and Durante was the best Rhapsody Iíve ever seen. Acosta was amazing: he seized on the role, with all those jumps, turns, fierce changes of direction, like an enthusiastic child trying out a new toy - look, now I can make it do this ! And have you seen that ? There was a complete lack of the narcissism that other interpreters have brought to the role, and instead just a happy exuberance and sheer delight in dancing. Durante too excelled: lovely delicate feet. The writing for the six couples in Rhapsody is also fairly demanding, particularly for the men. I thought that this was a better account from them than Iíve seen before. Most of the men (Cervera, Essakow, Howells, Meissner) are also dancing in the fiendishly fast third act divertissement of Ondine: having a solid spell of Ashton in the repertory rather than occasional doses seems to have paid off. In general, the company looked very confident and really at home in the work. A delightful end to the evening.