19 JULY 1957, Page 34

Towards an English Style

IN ballet we speak of the French, Russian or Italian style, and we can also refer to a dancer's own indi- vidual style. The first use of the word is to identify the special quality with which dancing of that particular national school is imbued. The dancers share both a training heri- tage and an ideology about ballet.

The personal style of a dancer is that precise quality which marks his (or her) performances and which is quite different from that of any other dancer. It carries exactly the same connotation as in Buffon's best-known utterance, and it is not surprising that its author was the greatest natural- ist of his time, and presumably therefore 'nature observer.' Le style, c'est l'homme mente; it is with this exact sense of the meaning of 'style' that ballet is concerned. No performance of dancing comes to life unless the styles of several—preferably, most—dancers taking part are communicated to


It is no denigration of English dancers generally to say that 'English style' (as a national or racial factor in dance interpretation) is almost non- existent. It is nothing like so positive as, say, Danish or Russian or Italian style. By historical accident we and the Americans are the last peoples to have developed a widespread interest in ballet, so that it suddenly found a place in our national cultures. We are therefore the two peoples still in process of developing a national style of ballet.

Dancing schools planned and run on the best contemporary scientific methods were existing in Italy and France by the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries : early in the eighteenth cen- tury models of these were being operated all over North and Central Europe and in Russia. Here, we had to wait on the impact of the twentieth- century renaissance of ballet before we took the academic idea seriously.

We have not yet been in the business of ballet long enough to have created a manner of dancing, an uninhibited mode of characterising, which pro- duce an effect unmistakably English. Often com- petent dancing of a universally known ballet by English dancers will look like a pastiche of several styles—the flashy acrobatics of French style plus the solemnity of Russian romantic style with a dash of Italian melodrama. What gives most of the satisfaction we feel is the impact of the in- dividual styles of the dancers themselves—not their collective sense of dancing within a given framework of balletic values entirely English.

It required several decades for the Italians, Danes, Russians, etc., to arrive at an integrated racial style : much of the effect in performance is arrived at entirely subconsciously, but the con- scious projection that the dancers make is coloured by their sharing certain psychical and philosophical attitudes towards their art. These they will have absorbed gradually during their training, but they will permanently condition the dancer's personal imprint on every performance he ever gives.

Our training methods are remarkable for the diversity of elements from the Russian, French, Italian, German, Danish and even American dance systems which are in use. The real English ballet academy has yet to be created : it will never happen until a central authoritative body can persuade all the present variant systems to subject themselves to a planned formula for train- ing which incorporates whatever is appropriate for English valuations of English ballet: this con- tingency, in the light of contemporary teachn15 practice, is almost a century away. This absence of racial style, and the effects of many individual dancers' styles, can be fascinal' ingly studied in the works now on view at both Sadler's Wells and the Festival Hall. However hard the work put in on it (and it has had sonic excellent producers and ballet masters) 111!, Sadler's Wells Company cannot project vve. enough, by way of individuals' dancing styles, 1" make ballets such as La Fête Etrange, A PParr Lions and Giselle complete performances. If vte, can accept Keats's dictum that, The excellence of every art lies in its intensity'—then lack of Wen'

sity is a very marked characteristic of the Cow pany. The dancers cannot make sympathetic cony

munion with one another while interpreting their several roles—no fault of theirs as individuals 101 a shortcoming found, in varying degrees, in all English companies today.

The Festival Ballet has been making a Pro- found impression on many audiences during its recent European tour: which is to be credited,' believe, to the phenomenal personal gifts of a large proportion of its leading dancers. As tech- nicians, and as interpreters of a special range of ballets, Anita Landa, Belinda Wright, MarilYn Burr, and John Gilpin are the'equal of any sign' lar group in any other English company. But theY, too, like almost every top-rank dancer in Gres! Britain, have passed through the hands of several teachers who have injected into them morsels 01 Russian style, Italian style, French style, and other technical methods which—although allowing 11 brilliant personal style to develop in each of tile, —do not permit them, as a group, to display am common signature, any unifying spiritual cir physical characteristic, which can be seen as totally English. The success—so far—of English ballet rests 011 a unique crop of choreographers and a lot of e%' cellent individual dancers working in collabora' tion with a regiment of merely competent perfori mers possessed of a certain level of technics finish—and little else. The longest phase in the growth of our ballet is yet to start, a period 11 which style, as the essence of the very individun himself, has to be extended into a style which marks him as both a unique individual and as a member of a 'whole community of dancers all sharing' and revealing—certain qualities which give added lustre and depth to every performance by ap English company : the yet-to-be-formulated .Ent lish Style of Ballet.' Our next forty years of ballet,: going cannot fail to be endlessly fascinating for all of us taking part: and we can fail only throng' t, our stupidity and inability to learn lessons froin the past of all the other great ballet-producing