29 MARCH 1963, Page 20


Vile Bodies


It is seventeen years since Helpmann presented his last ballet, the appallingly pretentious Adam Zero, at Covent Garden. In those seventeen years he has learnt nothing and forgotten nothing. From the moment when Elektra, crazy with lust, legs outstretched in sexual agony, squats at the top of Arthur Boyd's blood-red stairs holding an axe, right until the end when she is left caressing the weapon with craftily phallic suggestiveness, the work never misses a trick in its efforts to be 'theatrical' and, to use Helpmann's own apparently proud words, `X-certificate.'

Arthur Boyd's settings (huge-scale black and white drawings with all the lurid colour drained into the costumes and scarlet steps) are not un- impressive, and Malcolm Arnold's new score is at least loud. Nadia Nerina plays Elektra as pure grand gingold and is thrown through the air with the greatest of ease like that daring young man on the flying trapeze. But if the pro- gramme had not boldly described Helpmann's share in this Folies-Bergere-style romp as 'choreo- graphy,' I would never have guessed. To me it looked like 'dance-arrangement' at its crudest level, a few distorted classroom steps and creak- ingly expressionist movements thrown together with neither rhyme, reason nor flow, but occa- sionally trying to build up into some sort of a pattern by blatant repetitiveness.

Peephole, sensationalist sex seems to be smeared on to the ballet with ice-cold calcula- tion, so that those 'avengers of the dead,' the Erinyes, when they have nothing else to do, indulge in what I can only presume in the context is meant to imply homosexual copulation. Even Clytemnestra at one point has to appear in what looks like a large-size plastic mac. This kind of thing is unintentionally funny, but it is also a body-blow at ballet in general and the Royal Ballet in particular. At one time just after the war Helpmann's portentous mime-dramas (for to call them dance-dramas is to misunderstand the word dance) went a fair way to dominate the Royal Ballet repertory. This must never happen again, and it is more than regrettable that this, the last new work to be produced under Dame Ninette de Valois' directorship, should be such a grisly signpost to the past.

Moving to happier things (but only slightly happier things), an unknown Hungarian com- pany called Ballets Sopiane has turned up in London for a three weeks' season at the Picca- dilly Theatre. Hailing from the Hungarian uni- versity town of Pecs, the company was formed about three years ago by the Hungarian choreo- grapher Imre Eck, who was presented with an entire graduation class of the Budapest State Ballet Institute to get it started.

The company's major claim on the West's attention is more likely to interest a Kremlinolo- gist (if that be the trade-name) than a ballet critic. For Ballets Sopiane is decidedly avant-garde—in intention if not in achievement. It uses at times plotless choreography, musique concrete, and all in all clearly bears the marks of one of those Left Bank Paris companies of a decade ago, except for the latter's theatrical expertise.

The four ballets on the first programme proved trivial and naive. Eck hardly starts to exist as a choreographer, although he does present in his work a consistent choreographic personality that is characterised by its gauche jerkiness. In one ballet As Commanded : Hiroshima /945 he uses symbols with the muddled air of a noble savage confronted with the miracles of modern plumb- ing, and although his heart is in the right place, his choreography clearly isn't. Like all his work so far shown, it has a strong modernist tinge probably assimilated from gazing starry-eyed at photographs of Western ballets, particularly, one would guess, those of Maurice Mart.

Strangely enough, he is precisely like Helpmann in his inability to create choreography that moves, so that his work remains a succession of uninter- esting frozen movements that the dancers have to thaw into life. Not unexpectedly they fail. Some of the girls are pretty, and every so often the realisation that these 'experiments'—mis- guided though they may be—are coming from the other side of the Iron Curtain, strikes one like a ray of hope.