23 AUGUST 1975, Page 28


South Bank cramps

Robin Young

Festival Ballet at the Festival Hall. The name's the same so it might seem a natural coupling, but it is not without its discomtfitures. Festival Ballet is a big company (and my, how the faces change down the years — or even months) and Festival Hall has only a little stage. That's where the problems begin.

They are aggravated because Festival Ballet have chosen this venue to revive their worthy version of one of ballet's faded treasures, Fokine's Polovtsian dances from Prince Igor. It is a work of the crash-bang-wallop school of dance which rather suits Festival's undoubted enthusiasm and sometimes haphazard technique, If somebody got stamped to death on stage it would be reasonably easy to pass if off 'as part of the choreography.

On the other hand, dancers are not that easy to replace and the Festival Hall stage is hardly big enough to pass for a village green (as in Giselle, the accompanying piece). It is certainly no substitute for the Russian steppes. Given a bit more room to rampage and hurl themselves about, the dancers might be able to make their early morning orgy look a little less tidy and organised, but given the room within which they have to work it is probably inevitable that the thing ends up looking a bit like physical exercises in a holiday camp.

They put a lot of energy into it, banging their bows on the ground quite hard, clapping their hands, and stamping their feet with a will. Dudley von Loggenburg, as chief warrior, naturally has to snarl and stamp the most, and also has to find room for some big leaps, which is a bit tricky.

The hip-waving Persian slavegirls are an unlikely bit of fantasy, but they come across a lot more attractively than the damnably rowdy Polovtsian girls, who are obviously the sort of people who would dance on the tables. The set and costumes (after Roerich) are acceptable facsimiles, and the orchestra under Terence Kern gave a more powerful account from the pit than the dancers could manage on the stage.

In Giselle the chief sufferer from South Bank cramps was Peter Breuer, a tall and rangy Albrecht who would obviously appreciate more room to move about in. Eva Evdokimova makes an attractive and charming Giselle, although she has big feet and a stiffness about the waist which make some of the virtuoso passages look a little cumbersome. She has studied the acting carefully, and every movement conveys conviction save the surprisingly abrupt and perfunctory demise at the end of Act 1, which looked as if the mad girl had suddenly decided to lie down at attention instead of showing that she was supposed to have died.

I do not particularly care for Alexandra Pickford's austerely commanding version of Giselle's mother, but since she was wafting about as a Persian handmaiden in the later part of the programme you can see she is not really suited for the part and has to work hard behind the disguise. Valerie Aitken's Queen of the Wilis is unauthoritative, but David Long is a sensible Hilarion and the corps de ballet work reasonably well.

It is an undemanding programme which will go down well with family audiences (Giselle for the girls, Igor for the boys) and parents will find that if the Festival Hall is less than ideal in other ways, it is delightfully cool.