Dance: Leipziger Ballet

Igor Stravinsky: Balettabend; Leipzig Opera House
For his Igor Stravinksy Ballet Evening, Uwe Scholz, director and choreographer of Leipzig's resident ballet company, has re-worked a trio of celebrated 20th-century originals: Frederick Ashton's Scenes de Ballet, Balanchine's Symphony in Three Movements and Fokine's The Firebird. To anyone who knows these ballets, Scholz's versions register as mostly drab, if entirely respectable, substitutes - born of the kind of mild revision and unremarkable choreography that is regarded as modern by opera house ballet companies throughout Europe.

In Scenes de Ballet, Ashton's geometrical brilliance is replaced by inchoate groupings of dancers. The women keep slipping into coy, starlet poses; or stretch effortlessly into splits, their thighs grasped by men who, just as effortlessly, lift the women overhead. In one duet, a cigarette- puffing flirt treats her male partner with contempt, only to succumb to his controlled experiment in bendy-toy manipulations. Much of the choreography feels throwaway. Scholz wanted, perhaps, to allude to the 1944 Broadway style of the revue, The Seven Lively Arts, in which Stravinsky's score was initially used for a balletic divertissement by Anton Dolin. Yet he leaves us with little more than a series of fleeting, half-drawn mood pictures, flanked by some occasionally witty distortions of sculptural form created by the movements of silhouetted figures as a backdrop of horizontal bands opens and closes on sections of activity.

In his Firebird, however, Scholz manages to marry dance and music more organically. His scenario, although a departure from the Russian legend which informed Fokine's 1910 ballet, doesn't amount to a new reading. In fact it harks right back to the Seventies. The work's planets-and-stars background hints at John Neumeier's science fiction version for the Frankfurt Ballet; and Scholz's decision to cast a man rather than a woman as the Firebird follows Maurice Bejart's example. The homoerotic overtones in the pas de deux between the Prince (Damien Diaz) and Firebird (Juan Boix) are eloquently complemented by the final tableau in which the Prince, now almost naked, stands with his back to the audience and is embraced by the Princess, while the Firebird orchestrates the procession of maidens who encircle the couple. By simple means, Scholz reveals that final, glorious apotheosis of movement and music which always leaves you with the impression that The Firebird is an uplifting ballet even if it's not a great one.

Had Scholz trusted in similarly simple but effective means for his Symphony in Three Movements, he might have created something more satisfyingly coherent than the rambling, inconsistently energised choreography with which he responds to Stravinsky's piano and harp arrangements. Allusions to war (as in Balanchine's ballet) abound: an oriental army marching and striking; unspecified global power as enacted by women; optimism strangled and renewed by turns. Scholz has a decent skeleton of a ballet but keeps piling it with choreographic gristle rather than lean and muscular dance.

SOPHIE CONSTANTI

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