Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Shadows of War - the Other Ballets

























Because the restoration of A Miracle in the Gorbals is so special I reviewed it separately in A Second Miracle 23 Oct 2014 but MacMillan's La Fin du Jour and Bintley's Flowers of the Forest are important works that should not pass unnoticed.  I saw those works with Miracle at Sadler's Wells in the matinee performance on the 18 Oct 2014.

The MacMillan was striking in many ways. Spurling's set with stylized human faces. The jerky puppet like movements of the dancers in the opening and closing scenes, the women in swimsuits and the men in golfing attire, Ravel's Concerto in G Major. The work was created in 1979 towards the end of MacMillan's career and contains some spectacular choreography. The tossing into the air and catching of the leading women Nao Sakuma and Maureya Lebowitz. The apparent levitation of the men several feet into the air. This is not everybody's favourite ballet but I enjoyed it if only for the music. But the choreography is good too and, as I said above, the sets are striking.  I think I will find fresh things to appreciate in it next time I see it.

The connection with war was not obvious. The note on the MacMillan website observes that the ballet ends as the door to a garden is closed on the world. Quoting Clement Crisp the note concludes:
"It is a requiem for the douceur de vivre of an era, and it is nostalgically grateful for the 1930’s wayward charm.”
Well, perhaps. The war brought full employment and opportunity for many as well as destruction. I don't think there was anything douce or charming about the 1930s. With dictators and depression they are best forgotten.

The Flowers of the Forest is an old Scottish folk song:
"I've heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lassies a-lilting before dawn o' day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
'The Flowers of the Forest are a' wede away'"
Like our own Pratty Flowers the song berates the futility of war. Bintley, who comes from Huddersfield, must have heard that air many times. It is fitting that he chose the pacifist Benjamin Britten to contribute much of the score.

The ballet is two works in one. Four Scottish Dances to Malcolm Arnold's music with Sakuma and Lebowitz again and then the much more serious Scottish Ballad to the Britten. Two bits of the choreography stand out. A wonderfully rhapsodic tour en l'air by the lover in the second dance reminding me of Burns's lyric verse and then the dance of the two drunks who stagger around the stage collapsing in a heap with the women dancing the Huntley (or something very like it) over their spread eagled bodies,

Again there was no express connection with war but the connotations were much more marked in the Bintley. Created in 1985 Flowers of the Forest is one of Bintley's early works and for what my opinion is worth I rate it one of his best. The show is at the Theatre Royal Plymouth tomorrow. If there are any tickets left do go and see it.

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