25 OCTOBER 1963, Page 22

Design By

Covent Garden has a number of advisory committees, the most recent being the Design Committee, formed last November under the chairmanship of Sir Colin Anderson. What the Design Committee does, how much power it wields, whether it controls or approves, suggests

or influences, I do not know. It has four members, Sir. William Coldstream, Mr. Burnet Pavitt, Sir David Webster and, of course, Sir Colin himself.

Doubtless all these gentlemen know what they like. And presumably, so far as ballet designs go, what they have liked has so far included Symphony (Yolanda Sonnabend), Toccata (Peter Rice), Elektra (Arthur Boyd), Le Bal des Voleurs (Jean Denis Malcles—but it is not fair to saddle • them with this one, for the complete ballet was picked up cheap and unseen as a package deal), Marguerite and Armand (Cecil Beaton) and now, last but least, Ballet Imperial (Carl Toms).

Yet what a deplorable record of splodge, bodge and drear they constitute! Perhaps a little something could be said for Boyd's Elektra (I love the story, probably apocryphal, that the Design Committee had to consider a rather badly typed report suggesting that Mr. Boyd had 'put too much public hair on the backcloth'), and there was doubtless a good design trying to fight its way out of Sonnabend's Symphony (probably she only needed advice), but for the rest—ugh!

The real complaint is the new Ballet Imperial, unveiled last week at Covent, Garden to mass cries of const,ernation and alarm. Ballet Imperial is the solitary example of a Balanchine work in the Royal Ballet's repertory. First produced in 1950, it was a revival of a 1941 Balanchine ballet, given new decor and costumes for Covent Garden by the distinguished artist, Eugene Berman. Set to Tchaikovsky's Second Piano Concerto, this very splendid homage to Petipa and Tchaikovsky, Czar and Court, held its honoured place in the repertory, for many years. Now freshly revived, the old Berman decor, all gold and ermine, with its perspective of colonnades and imperial sym- bols, has been discarded in favour of new designs.

In the first place one wonders why it was felt necessary to re-design it. If it needed new decor and costumes, presumably Berman's designs are

• still kept by the Opera House and could have been reproduced. To replace them at all came close to sacrilege. But to replace them with these wishy-washy, pastel colours of Carl Toms is nothing other than stupidity on a gigantic scale. What was a setting fit fdr an Imperial Court is now some kind of blue-silk pavilion, with odd- shaped flags at the side, perhaps intended to give an impression of camp. Certainly, to adapt the immortal words of Cyril Connolly, the ballet has struck camp in no small measure. It is drenched with chi-chi and soaked to the skin with chic. The setting looks like a scent advertisement, while the unflattering costumes, mostly in various shades of blue, are equally repulsive and impracticable, How something calling itself a Design Com- mittee can sit back and watch this without at least sending a spokesman on stage at the end to disclaim responsibility is past comprehension. However, the milk is spilt, and Covent Garden would be well advised to do what they did with last season's disastrous new orchestration of Les

Sylphides by Sir Malcolm Sargent—cut their losses and restore the old version. Meanwhile something also needs to be done about the danc- ing. This is the apotheosis of the old Maryinsky style, and the trio of principals at the produc-

tion's first performance were, in varying degrees, either dull or inadequate. The one clear merit was the dancing of the Royal Ballet's ensemble, which

has never been better. But Ballet Imperial is not a work in which the tail can wag the dog with any comfort. The company has also revived—much more happily—Andrde Howard's evocative La Fete Etrange, and I notice they are still dancing Helpmann's Elektra. At least they were when I left. . . .