4 AUGUST 1961, Page 16


Gothic Revival

By CLIVE BARNES Balanchine is at heart an ice-cold classicist and Night Shadow, created in America fifteen years ago and known here through the De Cuevas ver- sion, is unusual in finding him in a romantic mood. The music has been arranged by Vittorio Rieti from three of Bellini's operas. Here is Romanticism at its most luxuriantly nonsensi- cal, yet all with a sinister sadness. The oddly moving story of a Poet at a grand ball, his flirta- tion with a Coquette, his bizarre encounter with the sleepwalking heroine and his eventual murder by her husband, has a dramatic power and a specific sort of fevered poetry that outweigh equally its disjointed narrative and its seemingly conventional characters.

At first the ballet appears dull and vapid, then suddenly with a horrified, Gothic grind it changes emotional gear into mad poetry; the previous atmosphere of vapidity falls into place, while the whole work takes on a dimension of unlikely truth. The duet between the Poet and the Sleep- walker is deservedly one of the most famous in modern ballet. The part of the Sleepwalker is conceived chiefly in terms of pas de •bourree, those trembling little steps where the dancer teeters on tiptoe. She is asleep holding a lighted candle. As she drifts across the stage the Poet sees her. He touches her and she turns. He pushes her and she glides back, still in her trance. He swings her round, guides her first in this direction, then that. He throws himself on the ground, impeding her with his arm, and she picks her way over it. Enraptured, enchanted, he encircles her with his arms and slides them down round her still impassive body. The sweet Bellini music—the mad scene from I Puritani—trills gently to its climax, and as if by alchemy the ardour of the Poet, the contrasting stillness of the Sleepwalker together with the nostalgic warblings of the music combine to create an intense reality.

Night Shadow is a work that should have fitted Ballet Rambert, usually so acutely aware of atmosphere, to perfection. That so far it sits uneasily in its new home is not really due to the production, accurately enough staged by John Taras, Balanchine's ballet-master, or even to the new designs by Alix Stone, who has admittedly provided a rather too little forbidding Gothic pile. The real fault is the general lack of bite and accent in the dancing, and the failure of the two principals. The Sleepwalker, June Sandbrook, is abstractedly, pathetically somnambulistic, but does not yet have the essential smoothness of footwork to eddy across the stage as if blown by the wind. Norman Morrice tries intelligently to give life to the Poet, but no amount of intelli- gence will make up for the brooding, Byronic presence that George Skibine brought to the part; his Poet remains obstinately lifeless. John Chesworth as the brutish Husband and Lucette Aldous as the vindictive Coquette, are both far more to the point. Yet, with love and rehearsal this production, though not born great, might achieve greatness. Even now it is an acquisition.

For the second new production of their three weeks' London season, Ballet Rambert have mounted Walter Gore's Night and Silence. First produced for the Edinburgh Festival Ballet, it has never been seen in London. Now salvaged, with Paula Hinton and Gore himself as guest artists, this exploration into neurotic jealousy, oddly yet fittingly set to Bach, proves impressive. Gore is never afraid to use movements in the form of metaphors which are quite distinct from the naturalistic movements to which most choreo- graphers restrict themselves. Here his fancy is sometimes too feverish, and the clandestine meeting with its bout of jealous love-hatred, attempted murder, agonised remorse and wary reconciliation, while accurately setting the pat- tern of a recognisable relationship, has a slightly overblown air. Much of the work's quality comes from Paula Hinton, one of our finest dance- actresses and nowadays seen too rarely in England. Trapped, frightened, resigned, the sheer force and passion of her performance has an almost physical impact.

The third new production of the season is Nor- man Morrice's A Place in the Desert. Against the drama of Arab villagers resentfully being forced to evacuate their village by the encroaching flood- waters of a new dam, Morrice has placed a love affair between the local sheikh's dusky daughter (finely played by Gillian Martlew) and the clean- cut, clean-collared young agent of the construc- tion company, dressed nattily in khaki drill, by whom it appears the girl is pregnant. A story of such complexity is unusual in ballet, and Morrice tells it with economy and marked dramatic skill, even including such sub-plots as the rebellion and death of the sheikh's elder son, and a young brother who acts as go-between for the lovers.

To convey all this articulately in a ballet is remarkably clever. Yet for all the good intentions of Morrice's theme, his choreography often looks painfully conventional. The actual dance inven- tion is so conspicuously, barren that despite the small oasis of a duet between the lovers, the ballet is choreographically a desert indeed. The pity is that this is the successor to Morrice's excellently conceived Hazaria, and uses the same interestingly operatic-style designer, Ralph Koltai, and the same Mexican composer, Carlos Surinach (whose inspiration also seemed to be suffering from a drought on this occasion). The tendency towards fruitless mime-play was perhaps present in the earlier ballet, but Morrice warded it off with imaginative dancing. A Place in the Desert only presents the sorry sight of an immensely talented young man being swept out to sea by the under- tow of his own new wave.

There is no space to mention the rest of the Rambert season—though a word must be spared for the demurely Victorian charm of June Sand- brook's promising debuts in the title roles of La Sylphide and Giselle. The Rambert influence was also felt last week in East Anglia, among the wooded lawns of the Hintlesham Festival, where Walter Gore's. newly-formed London Ballet got off to a fair start. The company, which next month sets out on a provincial tour, has around thirty dancers and is led by Paula Hinton. The novelty at Hintlesham was Gore's Scottish Suite, a boisterously inventive work to Malcolm Arnold's music, chiefly and unexpectedly taken from his Suite of English Airs and Dances, with nothing but a couple of numbers from Arnold's, companion Scots suite and a few tartan sashes to justify the title. It would make a Caledonian reel, but the ballet's a ballet for a' that.