Monday, 8 May 2017

Doing the Spits

Standard YouTuve Licence

This is the time of the year when the Birmingham Royal Ballet splits into two. One lot goes to Durham, York and Nottingham while the other goes to Cheltenham, Poole and Truro. I like to see both shows whenever I can but Cheltenham clashed with my only chance to see Northern Ballet's Casanova again before it goes to London. Also, the show in the southern tour's repertoire that I most want to see is Ruth Brill's Arcadia and that will come back to Birmingham as part of Three Short Story Ballets between the 21 and 24 June 2017.

For once I think the North will get the better end of the deal because it brings Pineapple Poll by John Cranko, my all time favourite choreographer ever, and 5 Tangos by Hans van Manen, my favourite living choreographer as well as Sir Kenneth MacMillan's Solitaire.

Pineapple Poll, created for the Sadler's Wells Ballet in 1951 as part of the celebrations for the Festival of Britain when Cranko was only 24, shows the genius of the man. With the possible exception of Graduation Ball (see Please, pretty please, will somebody revive this lovely ballet 2 Jan 2016) it is the happiest, jolliest, prettiest one act ballet ever and a personal favourite. I have only seen it twice. Once quite recently by the Chelmsford Ballet as part of their double bill with Marney's Carnival of the Animals (see A Delight Indeed 24 March 2015). And once at Sadler's Wells with what was then the Royal Ballet Touring Company in the late 1960s and 1970s.

The first occasion was the one and only time my mother and I could ever persuade my father to attend the ballet. An erudite and urbane Mancunian and a fine economist he regarded the ballet with a mixture of suspicion and contempt. Suspicion because he regarded it as an instrument of Soviet soft power which was certainly one of the reasons for the Bolshoi's first tour of London in 1956 and contempt because he regarded the classical tutu and gentlemen's tights as bordering on the indecent. He sat very quietly through the show with a half benign and half sarcastic grin. At the end of the performance, my aunt asked him whether he had enjoyed it. "Up to a point", he replied. With Union Jacks everywhere Pineapple Poll was far subversive and there are no tutus in sight. He admitted to a certain admiration for the athletic prowess and nimbleness of the dancers and indeed the beauty of the women but he was less kind about the middle-aged matrons who made up the audience. "I should like to see them try to do some of the jumps that those girls cam do" he added.

Like Graduation Ball, Pineapple Poll is a wonderful period piece with sets and costumes by Osbert Lancaster and music by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Enjoy the YouTube clip which would have been made not long after the ballet was created with such stars as Merle Park, David Blair, Stanley Holden, BrendaTaylor and Gerd Larsen. Birmingham Royal Ballet will dance it at the Theatre Royal York this Friday and Saturday and then in Nottingham on the 16 and 17 May. It really is a treasure.

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