I’m not a ballet critic nor a balletomane to the fullest extent but I do love a good, live ballet performance and it’s something I missed out on a great deal when living and sunning myself in the region of Le Marche Italy. I was a dance teacher in the UK for twenty-five years and during that time, for four years published a dance magazine called The Youngdancer, a financial disaster but artistically and personally quite an achievement. I think I know a little bit about dance after that experience.
A trip to London last week and I booked tickets for Sadler’s Wells to see The English National Ballet’s triple bill. In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, Adagio Hammerklavier and Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring). I knew a little bit about all three ballets but was a bit worried about The Man, who is not a great lover of ballet but does appreciate the ability of the dancers and has grown to like it more, since he’s been hanging about with me. I had told him beforehand, ‘if you don’t like the dancing at least you can close your eyes and appreciate the music.’
Well, the first performance began with a blackout on stage and an almighty electronic crash that made my heart jump out of my chest and my nerves endings tingle with fear and that’s how the accompaniment continued. I was regretting my comment immediately. I sat through the dance and for me the whole thing was overpowered by the loud discordant noise of the ‘music’. The dancers could not be faulted and the choreography ‘interesting’ though I’m not a fan the beautiful classical motif being abruptly finished, then a casual walk off stage completely out of character as though to grab a coffee and light up a fag. I’m sure that William Forsythe had his reasons but it’s just not for me. Thom Willems, I did try to like your music. So, basically, jury still out on this one for me, but The Man? He loved it, especially the music. Well, you never can tell…
Next was Adagio Hammerklavier, music by Ludwig van Beethoven. This time music I could not fault you, it was medicine to soothe my damaged drums and lull me back into the world of beauty. Choreography was slow and absorbing, though Hans Van Manen (choreographer) still managed to throw in an unessessary flexed foot every now and then. Why must they do that? Costumes, flowing and fitting. Dancers, technically and artistically striking, bodies working together with a unity and completeness that only comes from rehearsal and hard slog. A joy for me to watch.
Last in the triple bill was Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) choreography by Pina Baush and this was the one I was looking forward to. My daughter had been raving about Pina Baush a couple of years ago and I had not had the opportunity to see any of her work so this was a treat. Before the performance began, a team of stage assistants, (or they might have been dancers) came on in brown coats and spread the whole stage with peat. As I understand, from the programme, the idea of this was to ‘ground’ the dancers, it’s not a pretty classical dance but, it is to be danced as yourself, to give yourself up to the dance and the music.
The music is by Igor Stravinsky. Pina Baush said that the music was the dance and the dancers are the music. Jo Ann Endicott, who was the rehearsal director for this performance and had worked with Baush in 1996, said that if you weren’t exhausted at the end then you hadn’t danced properly. Well, I can assure you, I was exhausted at the end and I didn’t dance a single step but I was captured and on the edge of my seat for the whole time. The women’s dance was frenzied, panicky, desperate. They danced in unison, sometimes repeating the same phrase over and over at a frenetic pace, moving huddled together in mesmerising rhythmic, earthy patterns, like animals cornered. They would split apart, running and moving everywhere, then return to the safety of the herd. The feeling of terror and desperation as each girl thought she might be picked out was tangible. The costumes were simple and cream coloured and were soon covered in the peat from the floor. The men’s bare torsos, heaving and pumping with energy, were quickly dirty and smeared, rendering them, (the men that is) basic and primal.
Passing from one girl to the next was the terrifying, red dress. Though tiny and inert, it seemed to be the most powerful presence on stage. The young girl who finally became the ‘chosen’ one in said, red dress, danced herself to death with an outstanding performance. What a sacrifice.
The Man’s verdict on Rite of Spring? ‘Well, what was all that about?’ You just cannot tell what a person will enjoy when it comes to the arts can you? It’s all so subjective.
Next performance visit will be American in Paris Watch this space.
All photographs used in this post are taken from the English National Ballet programme. Individual photographers were not credited so I cannot credit them here. I hope they don’t mind.