Sunday, 19 April 2015

Not just a children's ballet

Seeing Chris Marney's Dogs don't do ballet for a second time made me realize that this was a ballet that is suitable for children and not just a children's ballet.  I was aware of that when I saw the opening of the show in Harlow last October:
"Though it was a children's ballet there was plenty to appeal to grown ups. For instance, the ballet teacher, Miss Polly, swigging from her hip flask and sleeping through her students' barre exercises. She was danced by Christopher Renfurm who has blossomed as a character dancer. He is a good Salvador Dali but a brilliant ballet teacher. Though I am glad to say that none of my ballet teachers is anything like Miss Polly, Renfurm fitted the popular stereotype of a ballet teacher to a tee. The expression of delight on Anna's face changing to embarrassment upon her first kiss was another moment to savour. Marie Astrid Mence, Ballet Black's latest recruit, was an adorable Anna. The study of canine behaviour by Cira Robinson - so familiar to anyone who has ever kept a dog - was yet another delight. There was Bif's whining, her friendly slathering over Miss Polly, the playfulness with which she toyed with a tutu and her pas de deux with a dalmatian. Just like a real dog ....."
(see Woof  12 Oct 2014),
Having just seen La Fille mal gardee  I was struck by the similarities in the two ballets. Both require a man to dress as a woman though Marney's Miss Polly is somewhat more sophisticated than Ashton's Simone. Both feature animals: dogs in the Marney and hens and a cockerel in the Ashton,  There was even an equivalent to the ribbon dance with the dog leashes.

Although I had intended to see this ballet with a guest there were some advantages of seeing it alone. The first time I saw Dogs don't do ballet I was with a three year old and as a result I saw it very much through the eyes of a child. The only music I could recall from October was Fauré's Dolly Suite and I think that is because I heard that same music every day on the Light Programme's Listen with Mother when I was three years old. Today I discovered that there is actually far more of Tchaikovsky in the score, both The Nutcracker and The Sleeping Beauty as well as the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture. So although it begins in the nursery with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star it leads into the classical ballet staples.

It was then that I began to appreciate the beauty of Marney's choreography. The same fluidity that I remember from War Letters and Two of a Kind.  That is why I find his work so satisfying.  It is a wonderful medium for his dancers, particularly Cira Robinson who remained in red setter suit with what must have been a stifling mask throughout the show whereas others got a chance to change, and Marie-Astrid Mence who was again quite charming as Little Anna. There is a magical scene in the ballet when Bif imagines the Dalmatian and they actually dance a little canine pas de deux to Tchaikovsky.

This time I also appreciated Mence's acting. She has the most expressive face conveying apprehension, embarrassment and delight. Her face was a picture when her dad, Damien Johnson, produced two tickets for The Sleeping Beauty. It was also a picture when received her first kiss - delight quickly turned to horror as she tried to wipe it away.

Having burrowed a little below the surface of this work today I expect to discover more about the work when I see it again tomorrow. If you have children then by all means bring them but you don't need children to enjoy this work.

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