Cries & Whispers

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THE ONLY way is up, it seems, for the Royal Ballet. Britain's premier ballet company is two- thirds of the way through its dreariest season in decades. The only new productions, three short ballets, came and went last October, and last week the company began another round of Anthony Dowell's controversial production of Don Quixote. The 1994-95 season has just been announced, however, and things look set to improve, at least a little. The season opens in November with a new production of Sleeping Beauty, hailed as a triumph in Washington, where it was unveiled in April. And William Forsythe, who created the smash-hit In the middle, somewhat elevated, is putting on a special new work later in the year. The biggest surprise of all though is a commission from Michael Clark, the dancer and choreographer who is best known for wiggling huge dildoes on stage in paroxysms of post-punk euphoria. Dowell, the Royal Ballet's artistic director, has been under pressure from Clark fans to invite him to create work. Others, including some who recognise Clark's gifts, think that he and the Royal Ballet would be a mis-match - a bit like asking Mark E Smith to conduct the LSO. Perhaps, but Clark, who is touring with his latest work, O, has declared punk dead. He is far more serious now and has given up foisting his puerile jokes on audiences. All credit to Dowell, then, for inviting this great talent to Covent Garden - though it is likely to provoke an outcry among those who haven't kept up with Clark, and last saw him a few years ago pulling a ribbon out of another dancer's backside.

VIRGIN RECORDS is 21 this year, and don't we know it. The last few weeks have seen a commemorative album, a TV special and a slap-up party at The Manor, Virgin's country- house studio. No harm in all that, of course, though the celebrations have a hollow ring when you recall that the company is now part of the giant Thorn-EMI. What does stick in the gullet is the fact that the album, In the Air Tonight, includes 'Love is the Drug', by Roxy Music - a fine song, but one that played no part in the history of Virgin. It was released by Island. The rights were later acquired by Polydor, and later still by Virgin, when they signed Bryan Ferry in the pre-flotation spending spree of the late Eighties. Virgin have made plenty of discoveries: they don't need to pass off other people's as their own.

AM I alone in noticing something lacking in the festive-looking poster of seven actors and a sheep which promotes the 'No 1 smash hit comedy]' Four Weddings and a Funeral? Like the rest of the human race, I've seen and enjoyed the film, so I know that Rowan Atkinson (first on the left in the group) is only in two scenes, and the sheep (centre front) barely figures at all. This was not a problem - obviously one is funny and a 'draw' and the other is just funny. Both deserve a place on the poster. But what perplexed me was the absence of two of the central characters in the film - upper- class-twit Tom, and Hugh Grant's deaf brother. All the rest of the major players are there - why not these two? Weren't the actors famous enough? Good-looking enough? Or, like pools coupons, did their contracts have one of those little boxes that say 'No publicity' on the bottom? Sadly, the answer turns out to be more prosaic: David Livingstone, marketing director at Polygram, assures me that it was 'all down to lighting'. The photograph of David Bower, who plays the deaf brother, was taken under different lighting conditions from everybody else's, and stuck out too much when they put

it in the collage. The marketing men then got worried that just to leave Bower out would be 'deafist'. So they chopped poor Tom (James Fleet) off too. Well, I follow the logic (just),

but I can't help wondering how James Fleet feels about falling victim to such a baroque attack of political correctness.