Trying to put some bite into the dance

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
By Louise Levene

A ballet dancer faces many hazards but being crushed by a cello is not usually one of them. Matthew Hart first danced his witty bit of rhythmic gymnastics at a Royal Academy of Dancing Gala last November. He dropped the cello but choreographers are less fazed by such gaffes than ordinary mortals and Hart was able to write himself out of trouble. It will be harder for the two dancers who reinterpret the piece this week on the Royal Ballet's spring tour Dance Bites.

Dance Bites is the Royal Ballet's feeble answer to anyone who criticises the company for not staging enough new work. Most ballet companies run to a resident choreographer but the Royal Ballet has been limping along without one since David Bintley left in 1993. Starved of sufficient cash to stage the major new works that one would expect from a world famous company, the Royal attempts to make up for it with a little tour in which a few established works by Forsythe and MacMillan are mixed and matched with apprentice pieces by company members. Or ex company members.

Matthew Hart (25) and Christopher Wheeldon (24) are both Royal Ballet trained, both superb and both dancing elsewhere. Hart joined Rambert in 1997 and Wheeldon defected to New York City Ballet in 1993. And they're not sorry. Matthew Hart has certainly blossomed at Christopher Bruce's reborn Rambert. His assessment of the company has the puppyish enthusiasm of a schoolboy's postcards from Disneyworld: ''It's completely different. I'm learning lots and I'm doing lots of wonderful things with lots of interesting dancers. I didn't think I'd ever leave the Royal Ballet and then I suddenly woke up one morning and I wanted to.''

Hart's choreography has taken a back seat since he joined Rambert but he's happy to bide his time: "You can't do both equally. While I still have a dance career I want to dance and get it out my system."

Hart did find time to make Highly Strung which continued his apparent erotic fascination with musical props. For last year's Dance Bites he made Cry Baby Kreisler in which a musician is assailed by a beautiful young woman who crawls out of his piano.

Hart had hoped, with the optimism of extreme youth, that Sylvie Guillem might possibly consent to star in this ballet. "She'd have been amazing." Undoubtedly, but a 15-minute ballet at the Sheffield Lyceum? You have got to be kidding. Mlle Guillem doesn't do Dance Bites.

Hart has taught the latest work to two dancers, the young American Jerry Douglas and Sarah Wildor, recently returned from her stint as the star of Adventures in Motion Pictures' Cinderella. Cello-wrestling is a tricky sport for a woman because of the brute strength needed to tackle your opponent with your feet while lying flat on your back. Even the violin posed problems: "She couldn't get it between her toes." A half-size instrument was found but she's still stuck with the full-size cello. "It's fingers crossed really." Hart is thrilled to be reviving his piece d'occasion but admits that it wasn't exactly Plan A.

"Originally, I was supposed to be doing a new work but lack of time and financial difficulties meant it was better to re-do the solo. My first idea was too long. My second idea (which required singers) was too expensive and my third idea was this."

Hart may find the budgets uncomfortably tight but Christopher Wheeldon, used to the puritan parsimony of New York City Ballet, finds them positively lavish: ''The NYCB ballets have been in the rep for years, there's no need to update them and many of them are Balanchine's leotard and tights ballets. I might want a certain design element and I'm constantly being turned down but over here if I say 'I want a huge antique-looking Union Jack' they say 'Fine'."

Wheeldon made 'A Royal Ballet' last summer. It uses Beethovens's Piano Variations on "God Save the King" and four of the Royal's most seasoned stars: Viviana Durante, Miyako Yoshida, Bruce Sansom and William Trevitt. ''It's really just a fun classical pas de quatre. It's my response to Beethoven's tongue in cheek play on the national anthem."

Wheeldon's decision to leave the Royal Ballet meant that they lost a Lausanne Gold Medallist and a promising choreographer. Had he always planned to defect? ''It was a whim. I came out to New York on holiday. I took class with NYCB on my second day in the city and they offered me a job." Like Matthew Hart, he shows few symptoms of homesickness: ''It's more of a challenge because of the huge repertoire. There is no company which feeds your hunger for ballet better." But, just as some expats pine for Marmite and real ale, Wheeldon does miss the great story ballets. It excites him to see them in expert hands ''Dancers like Sylvie Guillem and Darcey Bussell can transform a work. I saw Sylvie do Giselle and I was amazed: she strips away all these sugary layers that are applied and makes those roles look as if it had just been choreographed. I would just kill to choreograph for Sylvie.''

There are two separate Dance Bites touring simultaneously till 7 March. Tour One (which includes Matthew Hart's work) opens tonight at the Lyceum in Sheffield (0114 2769922) then visits Blackpool, Bath and High Wycombe. Tour Two (which features Christopher Wheeldon's piece) opens tonight at the Orchard in Dartford (01322 220000) and visits Woking, Darlington and Northampton.

Comments