Sunday, 9 March 2014

Peter Darrell

Peter Darrell        Source Wikipedia
Readers in the UK will be aware that the BBC is broadcasting a ballet season on channels BBC 2 and BBC 4. It has already shown Darcey's Ballet Heroines (a history of ballet through the great ballerinas) and David Bintley's Dancing in the Blitz: How World War II made British Ballet. The latest offering is on Peter Darrell (ArtWorks Scotland: Peter Darrell Scotland's Dance Pioneer).

For me this last show has been the most poignant because Scottish Ballet was the first company that I got to know and love (see "Scottish Ballet" 20 Dec 2013) and Darrell was the first choreographer I admired. Although I lived in Surrey I studied at St Andrews. Except for Christmas, Easter and the first month of the long vacations when I used up all my Young Friend's vouchers at the Royal Opera House, the only ballet that I could see when my local authority grant and vacation earnings provided the means to see shows and take lessons was Scottish Ballet.

In that show I saw some of the dancers who had delighted me in the late 1960s and early 1970s, particularly Elaine McDonald who was Darrell's ballerina. It was lovely to see her smile as she recalled some of her work with Darrell. Also lovely were the clips of some of Darrell's ballets such as Mods and Rockers, House Party, The Nutcracker and Cheri and the shots of a reunion of Darrell's dancers who had been assembled for the programme.

When I wrote my previous article in December I came across the website of the Peter Darrell Trust which was formed in 1994, to safeguard Darrell's heritage and to promote his work and his ideals. This is a wonderful resource full of materials on Darrell's life, his work and the recollections of his contemporaries. One of the most moving contributions comes from the critic Clement Crisp. Another from Laverne Meyer, founder of Northern Ballet, who danced for Darrell in Bristol and continued to work with him after Darrell moved to Glasgow. Through Meyer Northern Ballet can also trace its origins to Bristol.

One of the things that I learned from the ArtWorks programme was Darrell's influence on Matthew Bourne. Bourne explained that he had seen Darrell's Swan Lake on one of Scottish Ballet's London seasons and had been entranced with it. Having seen  Bourne's Swan Lake last Tuesday ("Swan Lads - Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake, Bradford Alhambra 4 March 2014" 5 March 2014) it was fresh in my memory and I could see the connections.

The programme lamented that we don't see much of Darrell's work nowadays which is true but then how much do we see of his contemporary Cranko in England? And we only see a fraction of the works of Ashton and MacMillan. Every company has to strike a balance between its heritage and the present. It has to encourage its current choreographers and provide new works for its audience as well as preserve the best of the old. Scottish Ballet's present artistic director, Christopher Hampson, acknowledged the company's debt to Darrell on the ArtWorks programme. He has pledged to stage Darrell's work from time to time.  I am delighted to see that the company will present Darrell's The Nutcracker later this year

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