The first piece, Brouillards, with original choreograpy by John Cranko, was first staged by Cranko’s Stuttgart Ballet in March 1970, and came just three years before his untimely death. A very personal creation, the ballet begins with the whole cast, dressed very simply in white, spilling on to the stage to one of nine piano preludes by Claude Debussy, included in the programme. This entry is repeated at the end of the act, with a number of vignettes in between, portraying a variety of moods and emotions. Highlights include “Hommage a S. Pickwick Esq.” in which the lead (Valentin Olovyannikov) represents the famed Dickens character, complete with bowler hat and umbrella, in a comical interlude. “Bruyeres” beautifully danced by Mathias Dingman, trying to attract the admiration of a seated woman intent on ignoring him, and the “General Lavine eccentric” (Cake Walk) performed with great humour by Robert Gravenor, Nathanael Skelton and Oliver Till, also stand-out.
“The Dance House”, the second piece of the evening, and choreographed by David Bintley, was inspired in part by the premature death of a friend and fellow dancer at Sadler’s Wells. It is set to the light and witty Dimitri Shostakovich score - his first piano concerto - composed especially for ballet, and written for piano, trumpet and strings. Influenced by a medieval poem and presenting a poetic metaphor for death, the ballet manages to depict the “blue boy” death character, enigmatically inhabiting the dance house and interacting with the live dancers, in a light, sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant way.
Jonathan Higgins’ piano, and Michael Allen’s trumpet solos perfectly underscore the dance, and the designs of the late Robert Heindel - of a highly stylised building backdrop, and ballet barre in front - together with the lighting by Lisa J. Pinkham gracefully adapt to and reflect the changing moods of Bintley’s choreography and themes.
Finally, “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” – a 1930s jazz ballet which sets out to lampoon the craze for Russian ballet at that time – sets the stage alight with a sizzling and sensual recreation of George Balanchine’s original choreography. Originally devised and performed as the final act to Rodgers and Hart’s 1936 Broadway musical On Your Toes it was detached and taken into the repertory of the New York City Ballet in 1968. It tells the “show within a show” tale of a music teacher who becomes involved with the prima ballerina at the Russian Ballet. Forced to take the lead in the company’s jazz ballet, the music teacher has to avoid thugs hired by the prima ballerina’s lover to kill him. During the act he becomes aware that the assassins plan to shoot him on stage at the end of his solo, so quite literally has to keep dancing until the cops arrive.
Designed with great style and humour by Kate Ford, and with the charismatic paring of the Hoofer (Alexander Campbell) and the Striptease Girl (Ambra Vallo), a real sense of the liberty and decadence of the jazz age in New York is conjured.
The rich and melodious score by Richard Rodgers, and the joyous, unrestrained dance from the ensemble, perfectly completed this eclectic – and what seems to be all too short – evening of contrasting moods and emotions.
The show runs at Lighthouse, Poole until 29 May, then again at Hall for Cornwall, Truro on 4-5 June.