Ballet West USA: Antony Tudor, The Edinburgh Playhouse, Edinburgh

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The Independent Culture

If you mean to celebrate a choreographer, don't do it by reviving his weaker ballets.

If you mean to celebrate a choreographer, don't do it by reviving his weaker ballets. The Edinburgh Festival's Antony Tudor season had a hiccupy start in this programme by Ballet West USA. Of the three ballets, Lilac Garden still looks impressive, but it's flanked by a weary romp and a piece of faint nostalgia.

Tudor's reputation depends on his early works. Lilac Garden (first called Jardin aux Lilas) was made for Marie Rambert's company in 1936. The ballet, a picture of suppressed unhappiness, follows the course of an Edwardian evening party. Caroline, the heroine, is about to make an arranged marriage; the other guests include the man she loves, her future husband and his ex-mistress.

Emotions are packed into small gestures. Caroline shows her distress by sliding one hand down the other arm; for the ballet's crisis, she stands in a backbend, the other dancers frozen around her. The music is Chausson's lush Poème, but Tudor makes his points by going against it. The characters stand stiffly as the music sweeps around them, or move in fast, tight steps against its current.

You can see the tension and economy of Lilac Garden in this Ballet West production, but the company aren't at ease in its Edwardian world. Those tiny, repressed movements could be more deeply felt; the men look uncomfortable in their gloves and evening dress. As Caroline, Christiana Bennett dances with attention and focus. The score was warmly played by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, led by Ruth Crouch and conducted by Terence Kern.

The Leaves Are Fading is one of Tudor's last ballets, made in 1975 for American Ballet Theatre. A woman drifts across the stage, her long frock suggesting a balletic version of age and experience. Then we see a series - a very long series - of duets and corps dances to Dvorak chamber music.

Patricia Zipprodt's costumes are all dappled chiffon: flowing skirts for the women, floppy blouses (and, unforgiveably, scarves) for the men. Tudor's dances are as floaty as the costumes, and as wet.

The dancers smile blank smiles, float into vague embraces or high lifts. Men bounce into deep pliés, but any folk-dance flavour soon fades into blandness. There are a few distinctive moments. Mellanie Heskett, the leading woman, lowers her arms, letting her hands brush her own shoulders and forearms. It's an idle, self-caressing gesture, somewhere between fidget and flirtation. Otherwise this is ballet by the yard, sweet and insipid.

Offenbach in the Underworld (1954) was revived specially for this Festival. It's a minor ballet and a weird choice of repertoire. Few British companies now dance Tudor; it wouldn't hurt to show us his acknowledged successes.

The ballet is set in a Parisian café. Operetta stars, penniless painters and other stereotypes come on to flirt and fight and dance the cancan. The music is a selection of Offenbach lollipops, orchestrated by George Crum. The women show their stocking tops, but there's little spice in Tudor's Paris.

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