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Month May 2012

Review of the Royal Ballet matinee of ‘Ballo Della Regina’ and ‘La Sylphide’ with Tamara Rojo and Dawid Trzensimiech:[matinee May 26, 2012]

Ballo Della Regina

One always anticipates the first rise of the curtain in the opening moments of the performance. As the curtain parted on ‘Ballo Della Regina’, choreographed by George Balanchine to music by Verdi,  the first thing which struck me was how plump some of the corps de ballet looked onstage, which was a complete distraction. Because I do not wish any dancer to be anorexic (from which one can die from heart failure) I have refrained from commenting before. But yesterday, my patience ran out. Some of the dancers had heavy legs, as well, which can be a product of wrong training or weight training. For me, the dancers in blue were finished before they started, although there were several exceptions.

The dancers in lilac, Melissa Hamilton, Hikaru Kobayashi, Helen Cawford and Itziar Mendizabal , by contrast, were musical, airy and lovely to watch. Here is a Balanchine clip of some of the lilac sequence:

Laura Morera performed the leadling role, as Lauren Cuthbertson was injured. I felt that her performance lacked finish and musicality. Federico Bonelli who partnered her, gave an excellent performance. Here is Morera in an accomplished ‘Giselle’:

Federico Bonelli in ‘Sleeping Beauty’:

I have to say that although I love Verdi’s music normally, this music, written for the 1867 Paris Opera premier of ‘Don Carlos’, I found workman- like but not inspired.

The choreography of Balanchine is made interesting by his variations on known steps, and the way he sometimes diverts expectation. He  also uses staging in ways that set up  visually the structure of the music, for example, as if  one were dancing’ rounds’.

I did not like his ‘Jewels’ and, dare I say it, I think he may become rather dated, especially in the presence of some of the young choreographers I have spoken of on this blog. Balanchine’s complex footwork has not diminished any of the beauty of Bournonville’s (1805-1879). Balanchine’s work is derivative of some of the Diaghilev choreographers. The idea of dancing to music without a story line is a product of the old Ballets Russes.

The orchestra at times made me wince. It sounded scrapy. I am afraid that money creeps into everything, as it is very expensive to rehearse orchestras. A rehearsal used to last three hours, and if it went on for three hours and five minutes, you were required to pay everyone for a second three hours. So orchestras have time callers.

‘La Sylphide’ , not to be confused with ‘Les Sylphides’, followed.’Les Sylphides’ is a short, narrative ‘ballet blanc’. It was choreographed by Michel Fokine with music by Chopin orchestrated by Glazunov. The original  premiered in 1907 at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg as ‘Reverie Romantique: Ballet sur la musique de Chopin’. As ‘Les Sylphides’ , it was premiered by Diaghilev on 2 June 1909 at Theatre de Chatelet, Paris. His cast included Tamara Karsavina, Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova and Alexandra Baldina. Pavlova danced in a long white tutu inspired by Marie Taglioni:

Here is a 1953 version of ‘Les Sylphide’ with Alicia Markova, Svetlana Beriosova, Violetta Elvin and John Field:

On the 23 May 1834 August Bournonville saw Adolphe Nourrit’s and Filippo Taglioni’s ‘La Sylphide’ at the Paris Opera, with Marie Taglioni in the starring role, with whom Bounrnonville had danced in the 1820’s. He bought a copy of the libretto and returned to Denmark, where two years later he produced ‘La Sylphide’ with his pupil, Lucile Grahn in the title role and with him as James. The choreography  in this production is by Bournonville, the music by Herman Lovenskiold. The ballet brings to mind Giselle (first presented in 1841, later than ‘La Sylphide’ ) and Shakespeare. There is a terrifying witch called Madge, who seems to have escaped from Macbeth, and the hero, James, is a  conflicted Hamlet.The ballet is set in Scotland which provides a wonderful choreographic opportunity.

This  ballet  must be appreciated as the revival of a beautiful antique:

I was thrilled from an historical point of view to be able to see it .Tamara Rojo does appear on the stage as a latter day Taglioni. She is charm itself, and her foot work is beautiful. In the more difficult Bournonville technique, her feet seem to flitter.  The role has the contained technique of its period; the virtuoso dancing is left to Dawid Trzensimech. At a certain point in Act I, he suddenly bursts into dance. After the somewhat dreariness of ‘Ballo’, this was the first moment that the audience spontaneously erupted into applause: In searching for some examples of  Dawid, I came across this, which reveals the talents of Melissa Hamilton, who danced as a lilac colour in ‘Ballo’:

In Swan Lake:

His feet are elegant and fast:

Dawid danced brilliantly. I only wish I could bring it to you. He was technically superb in the Bournonville technique, with its multiple beats and changes of direction.

Tamara Rojo dancing:

Tamara Rojo remains one of my favorite ballerinas in terms of delicate beauty, musicality, gorgeous line- her feet talk- and she is a fine actress.

Some dancing from other productions of ‘ La Sylphide’ to give a taste, as there is not one from the Royal Ballet production.

with Johan Kobborg at the Bolshoi:

with Carla Fracci and Rudolph Nureyev:

Gary Avis masterfully portryed the cunning witch. The Little Girl (who was a little girl) danced by Sarah Keaveney deserves special mention for her musicality and graceful technique. The company performed with verve.

Mime Sublime and a zany ‘family’ tree: Etienne Decroux, Jean-Louis Barrault, Marcel Marceau. Lindsay Kemp, Joel Grey and Liza Minelli

Etienne Decroux:  was born in 1898 in Paris. He studied at Jacque Copeau’s Ecole du Vieux-Colombier, where he experimented with what was to become his life’s work- corporeal mime. As a student of Charles Dullin in 1923, he began to redefine mime. His early ‘statuary mime’ was reminiscent of Rodin’s sculpture. Later he developed what contemporary dancers call ‘isolation of movement’, and he was interested in how the centre of gravity could shift in balance. His emphasis was not on silence but on a true art of dramatic movement. He could be considered the father of what today is called ‘physical theatre’. His work had a strong effect upon Jean-Louis Barrault, with whom he appeared in ‘Les Enfants’ and Marcel Marceau.

Jean-Louis Barrault: was born in 1910. He was an actor, director and mime artist. His training in mime enabled him to portray the 19th century mime, Jean-Gaspard Deburau, in Marcel Carne’s 1945 classic film, ‘Les Enfants du Paradis’, shot when France was still occupied by the Nazis. His wife was the famous French actress, Madeleine Renaud. He remains in the French consciousness as one of the greatest actors of the Twentieth century.

‘ Les Enfants du Paradis’:

Marcel Marceau: was born Marcel Mangel in1923 in Strasbourg, France to a Jewish family. His father was a kosher butcher. When France entered World War II, Marcel, then 16, fled with his family to Limoges. In 1944 Marcel’s father was captured and deported to Auschwitz concentration camp, where he was killed. His mother survived. Marcel and his older brother, Alain adopted the name ‘Marceau’ during the German occupation of France. The two brothers joined the French Resistance in Limoges, where they saved many children from the race laws and concentration camps. Marcel started miming as a way of keeping children quiet as they were escaping to neutral Switzerland.

After demobilization in 1946, Marcel enrolled as a student in Charles Dullin’s School of Dramatic Art in the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre in Paris, where he studied with Joshua Smith and Etienne Decroux. After his studies, he joined Jean-Louis Barrault’s company and was cast as Arlequin in pantomime. In 1947 Marceau created ‘Bip the Clown’ and was first played at the Theatre de Poche (Pocket Theatre). As Bip. he wore a striped pullover and a battered silk opera hat adorned with a flower. Bip had misadventures with everything from butterflies to lions. Some of his finest pieces had titles like,’The Cage’, Walking against the Wind’,’The Mask Maker’, ‘Youth, Maturity, Old age and Death’.

I first met Marceau after his performance in Paris in the summer of 1963. Suddenly the door of his dressing room opened and two gypsies emerged- Perhaps, in retrospect, they were Spanish Flamenco dancers. While rendered speechless, Marceau suddenly strode out chatting to them-  not in French. Then he spotted me. In perfect English he said, ‘Well, little one, I do like your face’. I babbled something. He replied,’Would you like to study with me?’ I yearned to say ‘yes’, but  I immediately thought it impossible, because even as he spoke, I had run out of money as part of a  parental plot  to force me home. I have regretted this decision my entire life. Never say No to an offer like that.

Hungry in Paris 1963: Mercedita and I were so hungry in Paris that our mouths were covered in sores. We were sleeping in a run down student hostel which served us cold coffee for breakfast in a cereal bowl. We walked around the corner to a little bar in order to smell hot bread. When the owner realised that we had no money , he was generous and kind. With the words, ‘Don’t tell my wife’, he took out two liquor glasses and filled them with creme de menthe. I couldn’t even look at it, but I tried to smile, all the while knowing that I was definitely going to steal a loaf of bread very soon.

Marcel Marceau performs:

Lindsay Kemp: You have met Lindsay before on my website. He and Charlie Chaplin are the two great English mimes and draw upon the French tradition. Lindsay was born in South Shields in 1938, and he currently works and performs in Italy, the home of the commendia dell’arte. Here Lindsay performs ‘Salieri’, (Mozart’s jealous contemporary).

And recently as The Devil in Histoire Du Soldat:

Charlie Chaplin in the Lion’s cage:

Joel Grey was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1932 to a theatre family. Although Lindsay and he are influenced by Vaudeville, these stunning performances choreographed by Bob Fosse contain so much ‘business’ from the art of mime.

And with Liza Minelli: Both have ‘painted’ faces. Etienne Decroux would be pleased with this brilliant performance of physical theatre:

A glimpse into rehearsals for Ballo della Regina at The Royal Opera House.

Watch the interview with Merrill Ashley and watch rehearsal footage of Royal Ballet dancers in rehearsal for George Balanchine’s Ballo della regina. Find out more: