Review: A step in the wrong direction

Tchaikovsky trilogy Peter Schaufuss Ballet
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Indy Lifestyle Online
The Peter Schaufuss Ballet's trilogy is yet another reworking of Tchaikovsky. Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker are rechoreographed as the linked dreams of a character who may be the composer. The framing device, and the attitude to the music (taped, brutally cut and oddly rearranged) are reminiscent of the hectoring spectacles of Maurice Bejart, with whom Schaufuss has worked. The difference is that Bejart usually puts in enough coups de theatre to keep his ballets going.

Schaufuss aims for the archetypal by casting individual dancers in comparable roles in each ballet - universal mothers, princes, villains. In practice, his choreography is so ineffectual, and so heavy-handed, that they are reduced to pallid stereotypes trailing aimlessly Freudian baggage. The Swan Lake prince and his mother are supposed to have a suffocating manipulative relationship, but Schaufuss's attempts to express it consist of one dancer shoving the other about. The intended Oedipal frissons definitely fail to come off. In The Sleeping Beauty, Carabosse has become Aurora's (presumably illegitimate) half-sister. The change might make sense if she were presented with some sympathy or understanding, but she remains an essentially motiveless baddie. She is not a child deprived of her birthright, but a wicked fairy deprived of all conviction. Schaufuss has thrown away the emotional logic of the fairy story, and found nothing to replace it.

The production comes closest to working in The Nutcracker, where the production's enthusiasm for Freud and dreams do fit the story. The party scene, where the child heroine is confused and intimidated by stamping adult dances, is successful, and Amy Hollingsworth was a fine Clara. The second act unravels in a mess of national dances, but then so do most Nutcrackers; audiences sit through all that for the grand pas de deux. The new grand pas is not worth waiting for.

By taking on Tchaikovsky, Schaufuss puts his choreography in competition with the most famous images in ballet, and he comes off dismally. Matthew Bourne managed to reinvent the white swan in new terms; this swan and prince wriggle separately across the floor, like beached synchronised swimmers. It does nothing to dispel floating visions of the original. Similarly, Schaufuss's version of the Rose Adage only makes sense as a parody of the Petipa version - an audience familiar with Petipa is even less likely to excuse these witless doodlings.

The dances for the swans (male and female) were fairly conventional, but steps and dancers lacked the sense of phrasing which makes the difference between dancing and running about with flapping arms. Dancing standards were variable: footwork was neat and bright, but only Caroline Petter, as the Queen, and Alexandre Bourdat, the Dream Master, invested their gestures or held positions with real conviction.

Schaufuss states that these productions are his idea of "how to make classical ballets come alive". The result is neither classical nor animate.