War has many faces, and those shown here are the approach of WWII after the carefree 30s, the social wars of a Glasgow slum, and a historical war - the young men who died on Scotland’s Flodden Field in 1513.
La Fin du Jour, Kenneth Macmillan
This buoyant ballet is Macmillan’s snapshot of the so-called ‘la plage’ era of the 1930s and its devil-may-care youth who had yet to be struck by the horrors of WWII. Opening with a beach party, followed by an aviation scene (a chance to show off some impressive, Macmillanesque lifts), the final scene is all in sugar-coated colours of lime, peach and pink. It’s at this point that opinion splits over the question, was Macmillan passing judgement on the careless fun, or looking back with nostalgia at a lost idyllic lifestyle?
The bright jewel colours are part of the designs by Ian Spurling, and the ballet is set to music by Ravel. Macmillan derived many of his ideas from period fashion plates, and the jubilant glamour is reflected in the bounding, boyish high spirits of the choreography.
Miracle in the Gorbals, Robert Helpmann
Greyer and grittier is Helpmann’s violent tale of life among the denizens of a 1940s Glasgow slum. It’s centred on mysterious stranger’s power to return to life a suicide girl, and the resentment and jealousies it stirs up, with catastrophic consequences. The story, originally by Michael Benthall, is peopled with marginals such as prostitutes, beggars and street urchins.
Even with its supernatural overtones, this ballet comes closer to realism than most, particularly against set designs by Edward Burra, a British artist who explored scenes of the social underworld in his work, and a haunting, violent score by Arthur Bliss.
The ballet premiered in 1944 and starred Moira Shearer. It became a staple of the Royal Ballet repertoire in the post-war years, though interestingly the Royal never performed it in Glasgow. It regains some of its original, ground-breaking character when set against Macmillan’s more idealised concoction,marking as it did a new departure from the traditional opulence of ballet.
Flowers of the Forest, David Bintley
Mirroring the juxtapositions of the previous two works, Bintley’s piece is in two parts: the first, to Four Scottish Dances by Malcolm Arnold, is a picturesque painting of Scotland, doused with sturdy-legged male bravura and plenty of speed. The second part is to Benjamin Britten’s Flowers of the Forest, inspired by a folk ballad on the death of the young at Flodden Field in 1513. Bintley brings out Britten’s pacifist leanings in a more characterful movement, including an ensemble piece danced as though by wounded soldiers.
These three pieces are not only an eloquent meditation on an endlessly variable theme, but a chance to look over the works of three choreographers who have shaped British ballet.
|What||Shadows of War, Birmingham Royal Ballet at Sadler's Wells|
Rosebery Avenue, London, EC1R 4TN | MAP
|Nearest tube||Angel (underground)|
17 Oct 14 – 18 Oct 14, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here to book via the Sadler's Wells website|