In La Fête étrange, a country boy wanders into a celebration at a château. Dancers drift and flit past him; he falls in love with the Bride, and her fiancé, misreading her kindness to the boy, deserts her. Gestures are weighted and understated. But Howard also includes odd, atmospheric dances for supporting characters. Entertainers, pierrots and a mandolin trio, zigzag through the party, springing into jumps or floating through turns.
Darcey Bussell has just announced her gradual retirement; she becomes a guest artist next season. Making her debut as the Bride, she dances with clean, sorrowful lines and gorgeously expressive footwork: bourrées, little hops, rising grandly on pointe or sinking softly from it. Ricardo Cervera, slight and boyish, turns out to be tall and strong enough to partner the famously long-limbed Bussell. His own dancing is quick and crisp.
Pierrot lunaire, Tetley's first surviving ballet, was made in 1962 to Schoenberg's score for narrator and ensemble. Orchestral textures shift and change, as Linda Hirst declaims the German text with wails and sung lines. The ballet opens with Tetley's best image. Rouben Ter-Artunian's set is a white scaffolding tower, lit with stark white light. Pierrot swings from a bar, body arched back into a crescent: he is the moon. Ivan Putrov is an innocent Pierrot, throwing himself into Tetley's mix of ballet and modern dance steps, avoiding the saccharine of the wide-eyed expressions.
Carlos Acosta is lithe and aggressive as the experienced clown Brighella, strutting and mocking Pierrot. Deirdre Chapman is a mercurial Columbine, pugnacious, wistful or aggressive by turns. The cast of three carry the ballet, personalities clear and bold.
The evening ends with Marguerite and Armand - a thin star vehicle, which this season sees a change in stars. Sylvie Guillem danced the opening night with Massimo Murru; later performances will be by Tamara Rojo and Federico Bonelli.
The Paris Opéra Ballet is one of the world's major companies. For Dance Umbrella's France Moves season, the company made its first London visit in 22 years, dancing Angelin Preljocaj's Le Parc. Was it a good choice? The production is handsomely dressed, a good size for the Sadler's Wells stage, and it underlines the company policy of commissioning new work. But Preljocaj's depiction of courtly love is limited. Though the dancers are impressive, Le Parc doesn't tell us enough about them.
Preljocaj evokes a world with rigid codes of behaviour, feeling suppressed or overflowing. Four gardeners, cupid figures in dark glasses, introduce each scene, leading in dancers and manipulating them.
The two sexes watch each other from opposite sides of the stage, dragging chairs, stamping and standing. Preljocaj includes some ballet steps, some contemporary dance wriggles, fitted tidily to the music.
One woman faints, and the others bustle round to fan and coo over her. There's another swoon, and another. The swoons are very pretty, arms thrown artlessly up, and the audience giggles as women slide to the floor. This is artificial behaviour, another of the ballet's organised games. It's also part of the problem with Le Parc. Preljocaj shows feeling contained by rules of conduct, but the conventions are too silly to take seriously.
The company looks strong throughout, with clean footwork and light jumps. Preljocaj does little to show off line, and the dancers are stuck with his musical phrasing. Another ballet would show us more of them.
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