26 APRIL 1968, Page 23

Living dolls


We used to call them the Junior Company or the Second Company or even, apologetically, the Other Company; now we know them as the Royal Ballet Touring Section, though pro- gramme billing very rightly makes no difference between that Royal Ballet normally resident at Covent Garden, and now on tour in New York, and the Royal Ballet who usually tour, and are now at Covent Garden . . . if you follow me. I am tempted to call the section under dis- cussion John Field's company, after their direc- tor, but whatever name we use, they are excel- lent, and too rarely seen in London.

They may share a repertory (more .or less) with their other half, and dancers may shuttle between one group and another, but Mr Field's young ladies and gentlemen have gained, by dint of ceaseless hard work, a persona that combines the good breeding of the Royal Ballet school with a panache, an immediacy in presen- tation, that is awfully engaging. Among his many gifts, Field has the qualities of a magnifi- cent nursemaid: his young artists are afforded opportunities, because of touring schedules, to get to grips with roles far earlier than is usual, and he has built up a roster of dancers—par- ticularly on the distaff side—that is quite excep- tional. They are all—and this is high praise— tremendous troupers: Two Pigeons this season has rarely looked better, and after a dull open- ing at Stratford-on-Avon a couple of months , ago when Massine first restaged them, Bou- tique Fantasque and Mam'zelle Angot have started to make sense.

Fashions in art are inexplicable, and Mas- sine's particular brand of frenetic comedy is certainly not in fashion now. To see half a hundred character dancers emoting at full blast —as one does at the end of Boutique—with legs kicking and hands whirling in inexplicable mime, with enough funny wigs and quaint make-up to outfit a battalion of Fred Karno's army, is to be made aware that times have mercifully changed. But if this surface appear- ance of demoniac jollity and agitation is more than a little repellent, particularly when it goes to dress up a story as remote and damned dainty as toys coming—for Pete's sake—to life, there is still an acreage of good dances and good roles —and a ravishing score. With careful, stylish playing these can be made to delight us as they delighted audiences fifty years ago. But the Massine style is as difficult to bring off as the really superb souffle: the slightest drop in the emotional temperature and you are left with a flat, sad thing.

Praise, then, for the company who have started to get the measure of the piece (the Royal Ballet have always found Angot easier. and do it better) and especial praise for Doreen Wells—a living doll if ever there was one— and Ronald Emblen as the Can-Can dancers, and for Michael Beare and Fergus Early who are outstandingly right as the Snob and the Shop Assistant. No praise, though, for the management who decided that we can never have enough of a fairly good thing, and put both Boutique and Angot in the same pro- gramme; the Massine formula works once in an evening but not—even with Brenda Last or Lucette Aldous charmingly on the rampage as Mamzelle Angot—twice.