12 JUNE 1971, Page 22


Empty seats


With four ballet com- panies performing in London last week, it seemed that the supply of dance entertainment might outstrip the de- mand for it. Indeed the Joffrey Ballet's season at the Coliseum fell a

considerable distance short of breaking even, while the Royal Ballet's 'small works company' (it is not fairly de- scribed as the 'small company' since it in- volves at least twenty principal artists) was failing to fill the Sadler's Wells Theatre even at bargain-basement prices.

A top price of £1.80 is dirt cheap when you consider that it would cost only 10p less to creep into the edge of the balcony stalls at the Royal Opera House, and the measure of unwillingness among the Royal's London audience to follow them to Islington prompts the unpleasant suspicion that what we are subsidising at Covent Garden is, at least in part, 'some people's taste for expensive sun.' roundings rather than art for art's sake.

The treatment of the Joffrey Company prompts some suspicions too. They came from New York's City Center to conquer London, and manifestly failed to do it; but they deserved better than some of the mean, bitching reviews their work received. Their visit happened to coincide with a great deal of publicity about Clive Barnes, theatre and ballet critic of the New York Times (and, as you surely know by now, 'the most power-

ful Briton in America'). Perhaps jealousy got the better of some of his colleagues back in the old country, for it certainly looked as though some of the British critics had deter- mined to break something Barnes had helped to make—the reputations of the Jolf- rey Ballet and its principal choreographer, Gerald Arpino.

Nothing of Arpino's work had been seen here before, but he provided no less than

nine of the sixteen works in Joffrey's over- stuffed London repertoire. Trinity, full of youthful vitality and adolescent idealism, and Clowns, an allegory of the human appe- tite for self-destruction and capacity for sur- vival, ('slick theatricality', said John Percival) both struck me as real achievements in ex- pressing ideas in dance form. They also had some remarkable dancing by Erika Goodman, Gary Chryst and Dermot Burke.

Clowns was a fascinating modern mime to set beside Kurt Jooss's satirical comic strip about diplomacy and war, The Green Table ('an exhumation', said Clement Crisp), which dates from the 'thirties but remains a masterpiece. I was pleased to learn that, in so far as the drawing power of individual ballets within the too-diffuse programmes could be assessed, The Green 7'able had been one of the greater successes.

The other was Joffrey's own Astarte, generally dismissed as outdated gimmickry. It pitted Christian Holder as a hallucinated drug-taker against Nancy Robinson as the Queen of Night. The long time it took Mr Holder to strip down to his v-fronts, and several other passages besides, could well have been saved, but the work did come to life when the dancers came to grips in a sort of sexual dog-fight. Projections on a distorted s'ereen, anticipating events on stage, made a definite addition to the effect.

Cello Concerto, despite some distressingly swift, entrances and exits, proved that Arpino could choreograph Vivaldi at least as well as Balanchine (whose Square Dance was not half so much fun as the real thing).

Even Confetti, a tarantella-like frolic with tambourines, was no more and no less 'embarrassing' (Percival) or 'risible' (Andrew Porter) than MacMillan's quasi-Oriental Dances Concertantes on view at the Wells.

The Joffrey dancers have plenty of vigour and attack, and they perspire alarmingly, but for all their hard work they cannot pro- duce the high-speed virtuosity with which Wayne Sleep and Brenda Last stop the Royal's show as the Neapolitan castaways in Joe Layton's delightful The Grand Tour. Their programme included some items they would have been well advised to leave at home (Abyss was abysmal, starting like a Babycham advert and getting worse). But they did not deserve their mauling.

Perhaps part of the trouble is that there is a dangerous tendency to profess bewildered admiration for the incomprehensible or the meaningless, and to think that nothing else is truly modern. Glen Tetley's Field Figures. for instance. It proves that some of the Royal's dancers, Deanne Bergsma and Des- mond Kelly particularly, can well adapt themselves to the discomfitures of 'modern' dance and is—perhaps—about sexual rela- tionships and fantasies. It's set to creaky Stockhausen and goes on for nearly fifty minutes, much too long. Much' more wel- come as part of the Royal's return to Rose- bery Avenue was Ninette de Valois's The Rake's Progress, beautifully interpreted, and similar in construction to The Green Table. But less wry, and even more remorseless.