Peacock Theatre, London WC1
The wonderful thing about Balanchine is that his patterning can have an artistic life of its own: provided everyone learns their lines it should look half-decent. Indeed, you seldom see crummy Balanchine - louse up one of his ballets and his Trust will take your licence away.
The 's London visit, the first in 13 years, features two programmes which both begin with Balanchine: the 1941 masterpiece Concerto Barocco and the 1978 Ballo Della Regina. The Manitobans looked the part with their sleek chignons, diamond earrings and chaste white practice ARG dress and some of the soloists were passable but the corps attacked the sublime paper-doll friezes and the nimble pointework with girlish optimism.
The highlight of both evenings was the company's 41-year-old ballerina Evelyn Hart. She dances twice in the second programme and only once in the first (which makes up for it by adding Manuel Legris, etoile of the Paris Opera Ballet, as a makeweight). The starry pair danced Other Dances, Jerome Robbins's 1976 piece d'occasion, a playful, loving pastiche of national dance set to Chopin mazurkas. Neither artist is a natural comedian but the dancing was superb. Hart, wafer-thin and with limbs that seem to rise and fall on the breeze, played across the stage like a scribble of flame.
In the second programme, Hart featured in Anthony Tudor's lyrical The Leaves Are Fading (which suited the company well) and in a pas de deux from Giselle Act II. Hart's skeletal physique, natural pallor and the fact that her tired old shoes looked like mummy-wrappings made it appear that she had literally risen from the dead. She danced with an astonishing freeze-frame slowness, as if trying to prolong her brief reunion with Albrecht. It was an opportunity to show us her celebrated musicality: unfortunately, the orchestra had other ideas. The New Queen's Hall Orchestra is a scratch band which plays on early 20th-century instruments and normally specialises in music of the English romantic period. They oompahed their under-rehearsed way through Adam with unseemly vigour not helped by Earl Stafford: Giselle's sufferings in the afterlife were nothing to the torture she endured from his bizarre tempi.
Meanwhile, beneath a large marble slab in Vienna, a great composer is slowly spinning. The orchestra's account of Beethoven's Seventh Symphony in the first programme was excruciating - but then so was the dancing. Toer Van Schayk's impertinent doodle on Beethoven was originally performed by the Dutch National Ballet in 1986 who apparently made it look reasonable. The Winnipeg company looked horribly exposed. At one point a hapless female was left capering solitarily about the stage with such ineptitude that the critical fraternity lost it completely and squealed aloud in uproarious disbelief. It should be said that large swathes of the very full house felt otherwise, but anyone who has ever attended a ropey Canadian dance event will know that London harbours an unsuspected abundance of Mounties in mufti who would happily cheer a Canadian dancer doing his or her Air Force exercises.
This wasn't what we had come to see. Evelyn Hart dances with a peculiar intensity that gives her work a spiritual quality - she's known as The Ballet Nun, after all. Without her, the company would not be worth seeing; with her, they are mildly unmissable.
To Sat 18 Oct. 0171-314 8800. `Giselle', Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 21-25 Oct, 0131-529 6000 (Evelyn Hart's dates to be confirmed).Reuse content