1 NOVEMBER 1963, Page 16

Dance or Drama

Obviously both aspects of ballet are impor- tant, but whereas emphasis on the dramatic can possibly produce nothing more emotionally stimulating than the shambles of a mime-play, emphasis on the visual element has time and time again produced a masterpiece. The force of this argument so struck choreographers a few years ago that the narrative ballet was perhaps in danger of becoming a despised form, analogous almost to programme music, problem paintings, or the much disparaged 'well-made' play. The pendulum has now swung, as is its

custom, and today choreographers are turning more and More to the narrative ballet, and the fundamental conception of choreography as a means of specifically dramatic rather than emo- tional communication.

This week, a representative of this new school of choreographers, the Canadian Laverne Meyer, gave us the premiere of his second ballet, Recon- ciliations, at the New Theatre, Bromley. Pro- duced by Western Theatre Ballet, it showed just that sense of social involvement that dis- tinguishes many of the new, young choreo- graphers from their immediate predecessors. Indeed, engagement and comment have almost become the stock-in-trade of Western Theatre Ballet and this anxiety to mingle is a welcome development. One can have too much of fairies and princes.

As a piece of drama Reconciliations is am- bitious. It is set in the here and now—in itself a matter worth comment. How many novels do you read that are not about the present world, what percentage of films, or even new plays, are 'historical'? Yet, unless one counts Miracle in the Gorbals, about Christ's second coming, the Royal Ballet has never produced a ballet in modern dress.

Mr. Meyer has found his theme in a wife, abandoned after an affair with a younger man, trying to re-establish herself with her husband and family. Set appropriately to Berg's Quartet, Op. 3—all lush romanticism neurotically tend- ing towards atonality—the story is admirable. But the blameless, colourless classicism of Meyer's choreographic vocabulary fails to work it out in sufficiently remarkable dance terms. The attempt was abundantly worth while, and the force and interest of the theme gives Recon- ciliations a large measure of interest, as does the spare stylishness of Peter Cazalet's decor and costumes and the devoted performance of the cast. Yet one does need more in the way of arresting choreography in a dramatic ballet.

To an extent what is needed is shown by Petrushka. This will never now be what it pre- sumably was, yet fragments of what has sur- vived the erosion of time are mightily impressive. Nureyev, coming to Fokine's puppet-hero for the first time, gives a portrayal more instinctively authentic than any we have known before in the Royal Ballet production. Petrushka, whom the librettist Benois called the 'personification of the spiritual and suffering side of humanity,' has in previous Royal Ballet performances been danced by Alexander Grant, who updated the role and naturalised it British, making the puppet more a creature of protest than pathos. In' this pre- liminary attempt, which had many lapses of de- tail, not least in the too carefully classical approach taken to the dancing, Nureyev has re- established the creator's original intention. Blank-faced, loosely articulated, this sawdust doll is the pathetic put-upon hero of the Russian lower-depths. No more impressive than Grant's more angry portrayal—and perhaps today less valid---it still had an abundance of dramatic feeling.

After the previous week's debacle of Ballet Imperial at the premiere, in which the new and tasteless designing found its match in an ener- vating performance from the principal dancers, it was a joy to see Antoinette Sibley in the ballerina role. Here was Balanchine dancing of the blood-royal. Accurate, musical and heart- rendingly radiant, Sibley has never before given us anything so good. She was like an heiress just come into her inheritance.