21 FEBRUARY 1964, Page 25

The Unkindest But

DESPITE anything I may inadvertently Given its world premiere at Stratford-upon- Avon last week, La Creation du Monde unfortu- nately takes that particular road to Hell which is paved with good intention. MacMillan has picked up Darius Milhaud's old score, originally produced by those celebrated balletic cocktail shakers the Ballets Suedois in 1923. Using a jazz- impregnated idiom, Milhaud adopted a scenario by Blaise Cendrars depicting the creation of the world as seen through the eye-slits of totem and taboo by a primitive Negro tribe.

A few years later Ninette de Valois produced her own straight version for the Camargo Society, which was highly regarded at the time and briefly found a place in the pre-war Royal Ballet reper- tory, first with the dancers apparently made up rather like chocolate-coloured coons, but in later revivals the ritual became white-faced. Mac- Millan has eschewed this black-and-white minstrel show, and intelligently sought to maintain the primitivism of the original by making the ballet's participants into children and conceiving the whole work as an exercise in pop art.

It has been suggested that MacMillan was attempting, albeit unsuccessfully, to be satirical. This I charitably doubt. I think he was just try- ing to epater the jolly old bourgeois with a ballet of the absurd and has failed, not because his comment lacked corrosive power, for that was not his purpose, but merely because his produc- tion gimmicks were not diverting enough nor consistent enough, nor—and this is the unkindest but of all—was his choreography on its own terms sufficiently interesting to make the fantasy viable.

The ballet is extraordinarily confused. It Opens, in silence, with dancers (presumably children) entering and pulling out costumes from a large hamper. Dressed up as if for a fancy- dress party (a choirboy, a pop guitarist, a Twenties hostess, etc.), one of them wearing a stove-pipe hat, and identified in the programme as the Great Deity, starts ordering the others around in some kind of game, a sort of new version of Mothers-and-Fathers, starting with the basic principle of protoplasm. Adam and Eve are created as everyman figures wearing white leotards decorated with a whole thesaurus of synonyms for male and female (a neat device, although throughout the ballet one tends to read them rather than watch them) and these are tempted by two anthropomorphs, the Snake and an Apple. The Deity banishes his creatures from their bomb-site Eden, and is put out when they In turn dismiss him. ' I have simplified the story into coherence. In the theatre its shades of implication are like Salome's veils and, teasingly, we never do get to the naked truth of the matter. What is the meaning of the ballet within the ballet, and why

does it seem that these two ballets are within yet a third? Why does the Great Deity wear a sweat-shirt emblazoned with Union Jacks? Who is the Butcher's Boy who rides on a bicycle, plays the Apple in the Charade and rides off at the end in his earlier persona bearing the now disconsolate Deity on his luggage rack? That such incidents have a symbolic value can- not be doubted, but what the symbolism is must be anyone's guess.

This might matter less if the choreogralky mattered more. But MacMillan has abrogated any claims to originality to the pop art designs of James Goddard. These up to a point, while more déjà-vu than avant-garde, are fun. The backcloth, with its mountain made up of an enormous copy of the Financial Times (a charm- ing PR gesture to Lord Drogheda, Chairman of both the newspaper and the Covent Garden directors), is quite amusing, and the detergent ads and petrol signs offer us a glimpse of an artistic idiom at least new to ballet.

Some of the production tricks also have their interest; the screen showing mock Madison Avenue sub-titles like 'and now . . . new INSTANT people,' or 'I was a teenage snake' are cynically apposite, the balloon-like Apple deflated as it is nibbled down to the core, and even the highly legible costumes given to Adam and Eve—all these things are amusing. And the dancers throw themselves into the romp, body and soul.

But the theatre of the absurd has got to be more than just absurd. Its absurdity should be a stepping-stone to relevance and the step is taken, in the case of a play, by the writing, and, in the case of a ballet, by the, dancing. Mac- Millan definitely needed to show more clarity in his objective, but the real lack is in the choreography. Instant pop ballet is fine, but someone seems to have left out the special blue- whitener of dance invention.