In with the new

Bar­bara New­man sur­veys the in­no­va­tive ways in which bal­let com­pa­nies are try­ing to at­tract mod­ern au­di­ences

Country Life Every Week - - Performing Arts -

Times are tough for bal­let com­pa­nies. Gov­ern­ments have their hands full fund­ing vi­tal ser­vices. Spon­sors are think­ing twice be­fore com­mit­ting them­selves to dis­cre­tionary in­vest­ment. The peo­ple who, ideally, form the pub­lic for dance are pinch­ing their dis­pos­able in­come ever tighter, if they have any to spare, and find­ing their en­ter­tain­ment in dig­i­tal forms they can eas­ily ac­cess, day or night, with­out trav­el­ling to a per­for­mance or hir­ing a babysit­ter.

To hold their in­ter­est, the com­pa­nies must re­vive their known suc­cesses while man­u­fac­tur­ing new ones to pre­vent even the most loyal view­ers from grow­ing bored. it’s a tall or­der, but when ne­ces­sity and cre­ativ­ity join forces, the re­sults can sat­isfy the artists in­volved as well as the pub­lic that watches them.

The Aus­tralian Bal­let has cho­sen the path of putting new faces on old works. Re­turn­ing to Lon­don after 11 years, the com­pany wisely opened its short sea­son with Swan Lake, the bal­let ev­ery­one knows and loves, in a widely ac­claimed pro­duc­tion by Graeme mur­phy that over­turns the view­ers’ com­pla­cent fa­mil­iar­ity with the story’s progress and gives them some­thing wholly un­ex­pected.

For a start, the ac­tion be­gins with Odette’s wed­ding to Prince Siegfried, a thor­oughly joy­ous oc­ca­sion un­til his mis­tress, Baroness von Roth­bart, steals him from his bride. Odette goes mad, rather like Giselle, and spends Act ii in an asy­lum, dream­ing of her lost love amid a de­mure corps of sym­pa­thetic swans. in Act iii, ap­pear­ing unan­nounced at the ball thrown by the Baroness and the Prince, she steals him back again, yet her life and their ro­mance still end in tragedy.

By com­par­i­son, Alexei Rat­man­sky’s Cin­derella, which re­placed this imag­i­na­tive stag­ing the fol­low­ing week, tilts the bal­let to­ward hu­mor, pro­jec­tions and fussy cos­tumes rather than el­e­gance and chore­o­graphic nu­ance. Pretty but pal­lid, Cin­derella her­self was over­shad­owed by the fop­pish Bal­let mas­ter, the soignée courtiers and the men­ac­ing reg­i­ment of rolling top­i­ary that, on the stroke of mid­night, be­comes tick­ing metronomes.

Both pro­duc­tions take their strength from the in­ven­tive use of bal­let’s time-hon­ored vo­cab­u­lary, nei­ther bury­ing it in dig­i­tal ef­fects nor stretch­ing and dis­tort­ing its phys­i­cal shape.

Although the com­pany proudly fills its ranks from its own school, any dancer who hopes to per­form ex­pres­sively and to the high­est aca­demic stan­dard should stay alert for va­can­cies. Years ago, when it brought mau­rice Bé­jart’s rad­i­cally rethought Gaîté Parisi­enne to the Royal Opera House, seven men danced suc­ces­sive so­los with such daz­zling as­sur- ance and panache that they stamped the troupe in­deli­bly on my mem­ory. i imag­ine this en­gage­ment might have made the same im­pres­sion on today’s au­di­ence.

As part of the South­bank Cen­tre’s ‘Fes­ti­val of Love’, Bal­let Na­tional de mar­seille re­vealed another as­pect of rein­ven­tion in Body.dance.na­tion.city, a fu­sion of clas­si­cal bal­let and con­tem­po­rary dance con­ceived and chore­ographed by the com­pany’s co-di­rec­tors, emio Greco and Pi­eter C. Scholten. Since its last visit to the UK in 2008, the troupe has changed its fo­cus, con­cen­trat­ing on a min­i­mal style called ‘ex­tremal­ism’ that the di­rec­tors have de­vel­oped to­gether since 1995.

De­scrib­ing a dif­fer­ent piece, they wrote: ‘[A]s al­ways the body will be the start­ing point, along­side the mu­sic that in­spires the body, con­fronts it, sup­ports and un­der­mines it. We… in­struct the hu­man body to re­dis­cover its own sig­nif­i­cance.’

Although this in­struc­tion could not be dis­cerned in this mys­te­ri­ous work, the fold­ing of recog­nis­able bal­let move­ments into sculp­tural poses and melt­ing

Aus­tralian Bal­let’s in­trigu­ing new take on Swan Lake, star­ring Am­ber Scott (cen­tre) will have built a new au­di­ence for the com­pany

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