Dance: Doom and gloom all round

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The Independent Culture


OH DEAR. I cannot see Ashley Page's new work for the Royal Ballet contributing much to the gaiety of the nation. He calls it Sawdust and Tinsel, implying a circus theme, but a rum old circus it is: a lion tamer without lions, a tightrope walker with no rope, an illusionist without illusions. And a ringmaster who goes in heavily for - what is that phrase? - inappropriate behaviour.

The only dancer who comes well out of this is the most junior, Edward Watson, whose role as a sad white-clad tumbler allows him high extensions, jumps and rolls which he does softly and flowingly enough to make his seniors look lumpy. For this fault I blame not them, but the maladroit nonsense they are given to do.

As this is an Ashley Page ballet, naturally we have a stage full of scenery, part of which is set moving (for no apparent reason) half-way through. Jon Morrell's design provides a huge, curved ramp that leads nowhere, so dancers climb it, turn round and go down again; pointless, but no more than the rest of the ballet. There is also a bit of canvas sheeting shaped more like a sail than a big top, and a ladder too big and too high to be practicable.The music at least is jollier than Page generally picks: Poulenc's Concerto for Two Pianos, with Tim Qualtrough and Paul Stobart, and the Romanza from the Clarinet Sonata, played by Fiona Cross. Anthony Twiner conducted. And since some of this music is livelier than Page's main cast require, there are also four so-called glamour girls to cavort about, except that in accordance with the latest faddish cliche one of them is played by a chap in drag.

Presumably the new piece was meant to provide a light contrast to the revival of Kenneth MacMillan's early ballet, Las Hermanas, based on Lorca's play about Bernarda Alba's daughters. Sadly, this resurfaced as a twopenny shocker rather than the taut thriller we remember. It also came out too dark. Maybe with the present production and cast (Mara Galeazzi as the youngest sister excepted) that would not be a good idea, but Nicholas Georgiadis's claustrophobic setting deserves to be seen.

Galeazzi was one of the better features of the Raymonda showpiece, too, together with solos by Belinda Hatley and Laura Morera, and Igor Zelensky demonstrating what classical dancing is really about. But why is the pas de trois taken so slowly, why has everyone lost the style of the Hungarian dance, and wouldn't Darcey Bussell's solo look a lot better if she followed the nuances of the music?