LAST EDITED ON 18-03-02 AT 04:30 PM (GMT)
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s triple bill was BBC4’s first dance programme. Each of the three ballets offered social commentary of sorts. Ashton’s Façade satirised the dance forms of the 1920s; Lila York’s Sanctum was a tract on industrial man, while David Bintley’s Tombeau was a threnody for the Royal Ballet, as he knew it.
Tombeau is Bintley’s lament for his great mentor Frederick Ashton. In an interview clip that preceded the work, he explained that Tombeau also expressed his anger at the eclipse of the English tradition and at the fates that had overtaken the Royal Ballet. It was an extraordinarily frank admission and it begged for some follow-up questions. But there were none.
Danced to William Walton's Variations on a Theme of Hindemith, Tombeau is inventive in the way we expect of Bintley. It is classical; no doubt about that - but stretches the vocabulary while still respecting the form. Nao Sakuma, Sergiu Pobereznic and the other cast-members gave a sparkling account of it. But there were problems of television’s making.
The performance needed to be more strongly lit. Because it was not, some of the dancing was shadowy and Jasper Conran’s costumes did not have their full effect. There has to be some compromise between the needs of the theatre audience and those of television-viewers. On this broadcast there was not enough concession to television. This is a perennial problem; and one that is not going to go away. A chamber ballet, as Tombeau is, would have worked well in a television studio. But the reality of broadcasting budgets is that most ballets will in future be filmed in a theatre setting.
Lighting was not a problem for the remainder of the programme. Lila York's Sanctum was almost cinematic, its style influenced by the films of Charlie Chaplin. If Brecht and Weill had ever made a ballet, this might have been it. It is unsubtle: a straightforwardly savage attack on industrial society and its dehumanising effects. It has an easily grasped narrative and will have worked well for television and for an audience knowing little of dance. Perhaps it was a little long: York had locked herself into a closing sequence from Ravel’s piano concerto and the choreographic ideas slightly under-ran the length of the score.
Whatever BRB’s reported reticences in the early performances of Ashton’s Façade, they had been shed by the time this performance was taped. The cast went for it with great élan and it was a fine close.
It is a rarity to see companies other than the Royal Ballet on our screens at all, and last night’s BBC4 offering, directed by Derek Bailey, was a very good precedent. It came from BBC Wales, rather than, as is more usual, BBC Music and Arts in London. BBC Cardiff has is developing a speciality in dance programmes, and hopefully there is much more to follow.