15 SEPTEMBER 1961, Page 20


Advice to the Lovelorn

By CLIVE BARNES The company is faced with two major diffi- culties. It is a commercial venture and conse- quently has to appeal to a wider audience than ballet, opera or any other minority art would expect to reach. Also its economic survival de- pends on its appearances at the Royal Festival Hall under conditions that are all but impossible. This season it has started to make the most of its disadvantages, but naturally not yet with in- variable success.

Last week it produced, with a modestly muted flourish of trumpets, its twelfth Anniversary Gala Performance, and significantly this was the only performance out of forty-nine at which not one note of Tchaikovsky's music or one step of Bourmeister's choreography made an appear- ance. The season has been dominated by the Soviet choreographer Vladimir Bourmeister, whose new full-evening ballet The Snow Maiden (to Tchaikovsky, of course) has been the popular success of the season. The work has its merits, and with a tighter production and more pleasing settings and costumes, could have more, but for my money the success of this Festival summer has been the same choreographer's vitally in- teresting reworking of Swan Lake, act two. But the repertory is not good enough on the whole.

The monsters of yesteryear have departed— Noel Coward's London Morning, Serge Lifar's Napoleon a Nice, these and their less flamboyant kindred are nothing but tactless memories, night- mare giggles not nowadays mentioned in polite ballet society which is fast forgiving and for- getting. A chastened Festival Ballet seems in- stalled on a path of middlebrow virtue, which they hope, fingers crossed, will bring its own commercial rewards. The only skeleton still in the cupboard, like a co:lacanth locked in the ocean's deep, is Oleg Briansky's Romeo and Juliet (to Tchaikovsky, of course), a. tasteless bit of fluff that might well be called Much Ado About Nothing. For the rest all is restricted rec- titude, but they are perhaps wondering how to continue the rehabilitation to critical grace and favour.

Festival Ballet wants and needs to be loved (it is a public courtesan, not an Arts Council virgin), and any critic looking at its problems soon finds himself transformed into a Miss Lonelyhearts. The company still requires slightly strengthening, and it obviously needs one genuine classical ballerina. Furthermore, its age- old policy of engaging minor foreign stars was cruelly exposed by last week's gala, Where only one non-British dancer, the splendid Flemming Flindt, even looked like shining. As Beecham might have said, why does Festival Ballet engage third-rate foreigners when we have plenty of second-rate dancers of our own? Even so, the real difficulty is to form a worth-while repertory serving as it must equally Terpsichore and Mammon. Possibly a partial solution would be to get Bourmeister to produce the complete ver- sion of his experimental Swan Lake (to Tchai- kovsky, of course) and to invite some of the younger choreographic lions, such as MacMillan, to ginger up the still too blandly flavoured pro- grammes. Last Thursday's birthday gala (Festi- val Ballet was always a Thursday's child) revealed dangerously recessive tendencies, yet for the most part they are showing heartening signs of telling the difference between good entertainment and bad entertainment. And box-office receipts are up on last year!