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Subject: "Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 11/5/00" Archived thread - Read only
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Conferences What's Happening Topic #695
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Lynette H

12-05-00, 04:38 PM (GMT)
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"Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 11/5/00"
   Itís nice to report that a mixed bill at Covent Garden is packed out (even the upper slips were full) and that the Royal Opera House is making an intelligent effort to support the Diaghilev programme with a range of exhibitions and other events to give a broad picture of Diaghilevís achievements. There are exhibitions of costumes in the Floral Hall, including Fonteynís tutu for the Firebird, and displays of original costume designs. In the Linbury Studio Theatre a production of David Pownallís play about Nijinsky, Death of a Faun, is playing until May 13th: it features Nicholas Johnson, formerly of London Festival Ballet as Nijinsky, and is an interesting counterpoint to the two Nijinsky works featured on the programme. Yet despite all the promise of the programme, it was an uneven experience which was curiously muted.

The opening work was Nijinskaís Les Biches, last performed here in 1991. The designs are ravishingly pretty muted pastels. Itís a witty and elegant work that makes one long to see more by this choreographer - although it is light and charming, it is still substantial in dance terms and imposes fierce demands of accuracy and synchronisation on the dancers. The Hostessís solo from this work was one of the more charming items in the Houseís reopening gala: in this performance it was danced by Darcey Bussell, who, lovely as she is, does not somehow convince as a sophisticated woman of the world. The men had a rather better time of it - Jonathan Cope, Nigel Burley and Inaki Urlezaga rather enjoying their butch posturings. Lovely work too from Jaimie Tapper and Laura Morera as the girls in grey, who were eerily twin-like. Mara Galeazzi (the girl in the short blue jacket) was much admired by many, but although she looked very elegant, her personality didnít seem to carry to where I was sitting (rather too far back in the amphi for my liking, Iím afraid).

The middle section of the programme are two works new to the company, Nijinskyís Apres-midi díun faune and Jeux, the latter a reconstruction by Hodson and Archer. Although Iíd looked forward to these pieces, they didnít make the anticipated impact: they had a curiously academic air, and seemed to lack the dramatic and sensual edge one might have expected. Itís a surprise to be saying this, with Mukhamedov in a leading role; perhaps itís just that the movement of the Faun was so stylised and so unlike anything else that it was all curiously unreal. My reaction may not be typical though: the Covent Garden crowd gave him his usual affectionate reception. Jeux was decidedly an oddity: although Sansom, Bull and Revie worked hard, it was difficult to get involved in the work, and although the steps might have been reconstructed, whatever delicate atmosphere or mood the original had had didnít seem on this viewing to have survived. Itís odd that the fragments of dance incorporated into the play in the Linbury should be so much more atmospheric - Nicholas Johnsonís snatches of Petrushka were peculiarly evocative and touching. The play assumes a good deal of prior knowledge of the history of Nijinsky and Diaghilev, but it conveys a powerful sense of personality in disintegration from Johnson.

Firebird, the closing work, is a more familiar piece from the Royalís repertoire, and its lavish staging provided a celebratory note. The stage fills with over fifty elaborately costumed dancers, to appreciative murmurs from the audience. The leads were Leanne Benjamin and Nigel Burley: as the Firebird she flutters very effectively on her own, but together they donít seem to work so well: we should believe she tries to fly in an effort to escape rather than very obviously being lifted by a workmanlike Burley. Genesia Rosato was an impeccably mannered Tsarevna. It is a grand and glittering production with some wonderful set pieces and a magnificently opulent final tableau, but I was left with the feeling that the principalsí hearts werenít really in it. The corps seemed to be enjoying themselves rather more, and making the most of their opportunities. An interesting night, and a thoughtfully put together programme, but one which never quite fulfilled its promise.

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  Subject     Author     Message Date     ID  
  RE: Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 11/5/00 Ann Williams 13-05-00 1
     RE: Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 11/5/00 alison 15-05-00 2
         RE: Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 12/5/00 Michael Llewellyn 16-05-00 3
             RE: Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 12/5/00 Ann Williams 16-05-00 4

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Ann Williams

13-05-00, 11:36 AM (GMT)
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1. "RE: Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 11/5/00"
In response to message #0
Friday night's (12/5) performance of the mixed bill was an equally uneven experience, though an entertaining one

Nijinska's delicious 'Les Biches' yields more riches every time I see it. It is a wonderful confluence of her choreographic genius, Poulenc's inventive and charming music and Marie Laurencin's simple, pretty designs. Nicola Tranah danced the Hostess with wit and technical assurance - it's a demanding role, since she's required to whirl dippily around the stage smoking from a long holder while bedecked with a silly feather headdress and several ropes of heavy pearls (believe it or not, the last time the Royal did 'Biches' - about eight years ago - the Hostess appeared to have a real, lighted cigarette in the holder with smoke curling from it). Mukhamedov, Martin Harvey and David Pickering played the three muscle-men and Mukhamedov played it strictly for laughs. I loved his sly eye movements to see who was looking at him and his slow, rolling, Robert Mitchum gait. The duet by Laura Morera and Jaimie Tapper was beautifully danced - Nijinska gave this some of her best choreography - but missed most of the sapphic references evident in previous RB presentations. (The last time I saw it the girls kissed pointedly, while the other girls 'gossiped' about them by dipping their heads and shielding their mouths with their hands, a wonderfully evocative and economic gesture).

Gillian Revie was a suitably enigmatic and androgynous 'Garconne' and her pdd with Irek was jazzy and fluid, a neat piece of dancing for both.

I have always found Nijinsky's 'L'Apres Midi D'un Faune' a ridiculous piece of posturing, held together only by Debussy's evocative, sensuous music and Bakst's elegant designs. There is no dancing in it for anybody; Carlos Acosta got through it with dignity but must have been puzzled, and Zenaida Yanowsky looked statuous in her poses.

On the other hand 'Jeux', a Nijinsky ballet reconstructed from notes by Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer was a huge and pleasant surprise, as it had been rubbished by the critics. The choreography was so meaty that I really don't think it can have had much to do with Nijinsky. Hodson and Archer have put flesh on some very brittle bones here. Nijinsky, according to Richard Buckle's biography, choreographed 'Jeux' for three men, a homosexual ballet unacceptable at the time which Diaghilev persuaded Nijinsky to change (I'm going from memory here, but I think I'm right), and it is this altered version that Hodson and Archer have worked on so succesfully. Two women and a man are playing tennis, wearing whites. The women appear to yearn for each other, the man appears to drive them apart, the music is again by Debussy, and the surprise (to me) is that the choreography is extremely original and musical and far superior to any of Nijinsky's faltering efforts. Sarah Wildor, Jane Burn and Inaki Urlezaga, in their 20's tennis whites danced with passion and conviction. The criticis (two of them at least ) complained that there was no point to this piece since no-one could prove that it was Nijinsky's work, but does this really matter in the face of such an original and pleasing piece of choreography?

Fokine's 'Firebird', the last piece on the programme, was danced brilliantly by Miyako Yoshida, who darted and flew fiercely across the stage like a real bird, seemingly weightless. The production, however, was oddly lifeless, despite decent dancing from the corps and good performances from the soloists. Jonathan Cope was dull in the role of Ivan Tsarevich, but he's dull in everything. On 'Firebird' I would have to say finally that I remember a thrilling and moving ending in the RB's production a few years ago where the entire cast turned their faces upwards and raised their arms in slow and exact synchronisation to the final swell of the music. We gasped. What a pity the Royal can't be bothered with such niceties these days.

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15-05-00, 12:57 PM (GMT)
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2. "RE: Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 11/5/00"
In response to message #1
   Glad someone else liked "Jeux"! I liked it the first time, with the Sansom/Bull/Revie cast, but was stuck right at the back of the amphi and found that was too far away. From the back of the stalls circle, admittedly keeping my opera glasses trained on the dancers for most of the time, I found the second cast (Urlezaga/Wildor/Burn) rather more effective, as their feelings and reactions showed rather better. However, I think the problem is that the ballet needs a rather more intimate venue - the average ballet-goer really shouldn't have to be using high-powered binocs in order to pick up the subtleties.

I also liked Tranah rather better than Bussell as the hostess - she seemed more involved, somehow.

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Michael Llewellyn

16-05-00, 01:19 AM (GMT)
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3. "RE: Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 12/5/00"
In response to message #2
   I have always loved Biches and wish it was getting more performances - with one run per decade you can hardly expect the corps to "get" the manner in the same way as the principals. The two principal casts are certainly delghtfully different but equally enjoyable. Darcey was much much better than in 1991, and danced it quite gloriously with her unmatchable back bends, but Tranah, being naturally sophisticated and the right age seemed more in tune with the manner and dealt with her two admirers deliciously. I must say I would love to see Guillem as the Hostess !!As Irek gets a reaction by simply being on stage, he is irresistible, and how beautifully he and Revie moved together with a perfect line in their pdd. Both Firebirds, Yoshida and Benjamin were superb, the best for years. I don't remember the arms raising in the RB version - wasn't it the Kirov?

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Ann Williams

16-05-00, 11:16 PM (GMT)
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4. "RE: Royal Ballet Diaghilev Programme, 12/5/00"
In response to message #3

It was definitely the Royal that I remember doing that very dramatic and moving final arm-raise. I can't remember who was dancing the Firebird - it may have been Fiona Chadwick - but Adam Cooper was definitely the male lead.

Does anyone else remember this?

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