Petrushka . . . pro and con
REVIVALS of theatrical works tell us much more about the state of taste in the period of revival than they do about the quality of, and atmosphere surrounding, the ori- ginal production. The Coyent Garden revival of Petrushka is no exception.
As policy, of course it is desir- able that all the available works of. Fokine should • continue to be presented during the century which saw the blossoming of his genius and the concomitant blossoming of the art of ballet. into
• the renaissance we are now witnessing.. He created nineteen ballets for the first—the `golden'—period of Diaghilev, of which eighteen were shown in 'London; of the eleven which survived into the ''Silver'age of the 1920s a majority has continued in repertoires somewhere in the Western world since. 'An appreciation of ballet anywhere outside ..contemporary Russia begins with one's experi- ences of, at least, Les Sylphides, Prince Igor, Carnaval, Spectre de la Rose, and occasionally Scheherazade, Papillons, The Fire Bird,
etrouchka (old version of title) can be found in some company's repeqpire, somewhere. No discernible reason lies behind the decision to revive this ballet in this particular year; its chal- lenge—as the most perfect dance-drama devised ..since European ballet began, performed originally by artists of a calibre which can no longer be bred —is a difficult one to meet. Like any true work of art, its whole consists of more than the sum Of its parts, which implies that every one of the several parts must reach 100 per cent. effective achievement for the result to be memorably great. Petrushka should be the zenith of revivalist effort, planned and prepared for as rigorously as a Commando operation.
_On March 26 the curtain rose on Benois's newest , revision of his first notions for sets and costumes describable, accurately, as a sumptuous picture;
• the familiar incidents of the horrific tale unfolded in due order. The animated crowd on the fair- ' ground—lords and ladies, soldiers and students, hucksters and loafers, servants, travelling thUsicians and assorted Lower Orders—drifted, ambled, trotted, lurched, wandered and lazed around the scene. The showman introduced his lively-looking puppets, they went through their ' paces, revealed their sad emotional differences. Petrushka agonised, the Blackamore gloated, in their ,separate cells; the Ballerina, visiting both, made no bones about her preference. The quarrel between the two male dolls rose to its climax; Petrushka was killed and the showman smugly shook the battered corpse to show j1 merely as a sawdust-stuffed costume. The holiday crowd staggered off and there rose on the roof of the booth the horrifying vision of Petrushka—his ghost, soul or spirit—grinning, waving and finally Collapsing as the showman began 'to realise what had been done to him, to his dolls, and indeed to :.,,the entire human race. . .
What seems to be infrequently realised is the absolute plastic qnality of every phase of a Fokine ballet; each step, turn or jump, even each lift of a ''''finger, the jerk of a shoulder, has been as carefully :"Iletided (in the original version) as are the notes in an orchestral score. There is nowhere a super- fluous movement—which is why, in no other ballets biit Fokine's, can we experience such
intensities of emotional impact gained by the simplest of means, .and enjoy such a visual plea- sure as seeing dancing or movement going on in two, three and even four different rhythms at the same time—a heightening of sensation which no other choreographer of our time has achieved so often or in such rich variations of idiom. It follows that no revival of a Fokine work can be complete in its effect if this total 'orchestration of movement' has not been fully realised.
With all due respect to the truly prodigious memories of the joint regisseurs (Serge Grigoriev and Liubov Tchernicheva), who both worked with Diaghilev's company for years, this version, par- ticularly in its great crowd scenes, has been far too freely adapted to the abilities of its present cast. The fairground scenes should ebb and flow in a precise series of rhythms indicated in the music; small knots of performers should coalesce into centres of interest within which some one signifi- cant action is carried out; above all, the whole scene should have an organically inevitable pat- tern of movement as complex yet as unified as the pattern of a sonata or fugue. It was this quality which was almost totally lacking at Covent Garden.
It must be remembered too, that even the most absolute resurrection by a regisseur can fail to evolve into the correct tempi and patterns if the performers are engaged in an idiom too unfami- liar to them. This ballet's effect is made through the blending together of the, as it were, 'solos' of the principal characters and the 'accompaniment' of the fairground crowd. Of the crowd, at least twelve, and possibly as many as twenty, have sig- nificant contributions to make—not simply as `characters' engaged in certain pieces of dancing, gesturing, or horseplay, but as 'instruments' hold- ing our attention on that part of the crowd or section of the stage where they are engaged. These roles ought to be as exactly timed, placed, spaced and emphasised as are the more restricted patterns of movement of the three puppets. Otherwise the result is exactly what we too often see in crowd scenes in the general run of plays and operas of every kind—a too-crowded stage in which the small, supposedly significant, incidents are with- held from our attention through the production's failure to lead our eyes directly to what we ought, at any given moment, to be watching.
By comparision with the effect of the crowd scenes, the actions of the principals were out- standingly good; not wholly perfect realisations, but very fully rehearsed and clearly understood characterisations. Again, as with the crowd scenes, one felt that not enough of the exact spacing and timing from the original version had been con- veyed to either Petrushka, the Ballerina or the Blackamore. Margot Fonteyn played the Baller- ina in a minor key which emphasised the delicacy of the role and in a mode which perfectly blended with the over-excited, unsubtle, Petrushka of Alexander Grant, and with the clumsy brutality of Peter Clegg's Blackamore. . . •
Details in the overall picture which undoub- tedly can be, and will be, adjusted through fur- ther performances included too violent contrasts of lighting, a snowfall far too late to make any dramatic effect, nursemaids much too ladylike where they should be rowdily gay (they, as well as the coachmen and grooms, have had a nip, of vodka before the fair because the Petersburg temperatufe in' mid-March is dantnably close to zero). In sum, what was seen in the opening series of performances can be improved at least 80 per cent. with remorseless rehearsals between each of the next twenty performances . . . which is the least consideration owing to the memory of Fokine, whose greatest work ought to be something monumental in our Royal Ballet's repertory.
A. V. COTOI4