The constant battling for serenity

Antony Tudor | Royal Opera House, London
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The return after 17 years of Britain's other great choreographer, besides Ashton, will be seen as a highlight of Anthony Dowell's much-criticised regime. Antony Tudor's Shadowplay and later, Lilac Garden, re-enter the Royal Ballet repertoire as part of Dowell's farewell season. Shadowplay is appropriate, given that Tudor created it in 1961 with Dowell, then a promising young soloist, in the central Mowgli-like role.

The return after 17 years of Britain's other great choreographer, besides Ashton, will be seen as a highlight of Anthony Dowell's much-criticised regime. Antony Tudor's Shadowplay and later, Lilac Garden, re-enter the Royal Ballet repertoire as part of Dowell's farewell season. Shadowplay is appropriate, given that Tudor created it in 1961 with Dowell, then a promising young soloist, in the central Mowgli-like role.

First-time spectators may indeed feel they are chasing shadows. The jungle setting has no literal connection with Kipling's The Jungle Book, although Koechlin's music does. Rather, the ballet seems an allegory about gaining wisdom: the Boy with Matted Hair discovering serenity, despite the clamour around him.

The impressionistic overture presents sound layers as magically immobile as an expanse of still water. Carlos Acosta's opening movements as the Boy are simple, soft and yet weighty as he moves towards the giant gnarled tree that will be his contemplative refuge. The disruptions are part-creatures, part-temple dancers, part-symbols. First are the Arboreals, swinging on creepers and filling the air with empty chatter. Then the Aerials mill around him; then comes the Terrestrial (Nigel Burley), a sinister, controlling figure, who grapples with him. Tamara Rojo as a Celestial is perhaps even more dangerous, a siren lifted high like a swooping falcon by two male acolytes, engaging the Boy in combat.

Perhaps the greatest danger comes from all these combined, massed as a huge composite animal in grotesque motion: a challenge commensurate with the Boy's growing spiritual strength. But even when these are overcome and the Boy resumes his meditative pose, an insect buzzes by and an itch causes him to scratch. We learn, as he does, that serenity is a constant vigilant battle.

Tudor's originality lay in the deep psychology he brought to ballet, demanding that movement reveal inner states. And Acosta, best known for his glittering classical technique, here again shows a fresh side to his talent. Michael Corder's new Dance Variations on the same programme (ending with Ashton's Marguerite and Armand) is at the other, plotless extreme. Dancing groups frame Darcey Bussell and Jonathan Cope, whose long pas de deux follows the mood changes of Richard Rodney Bennett's music expertly. The writing is fluent and attractive. Because Corder also returns after a long absence, I wish that his ballet had not been so much like a Shadowplay test, requiring Zen-like concentration if your mind was not to wander. But Anthony Ward's magnificent décor of abstract expressionist colour was riveting.

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