Review: A classic mistake

Tales of Hoffmann Theatre Royal, Glasgow

Zo Anderson
Sunday 05 April 1998 23:02

Scottish Ballet survived a funding crisis last year by submitting to the demands of the Arts Council, which sacked the board and insisted that the company change direction. An artistic director has yet to be appointed, but a revival of Tales of Hoffmann, a full-length work by their founder, choreographer Peter Darrell, underlines their decision to remain a classical dance company. The tour is boosted by the presence of Adam Cooper, the star of Matthew Bourne's hugely successful Swan Lake.

The complicated plot is clearly told. Hoffmann tells the story of his three great loves and their destruction by his evil genius. This gives the ballet colourful settings, plenty of solo roles and a range of styles. Unfortunately, Darrell doesn't really suit any of them. As a choreographer, he was interested in dramatic situations, but very little concerned with steps. It shows. He moves from the synthetic bustle of tavern scenes to a rather respectable orgy, but his variations on classical style remain uninteresting.

In the first tale, Hoffmann is duped by his evil genius into falling for a mechanical doll. Her clockwork steps let Darrell work with more than pure dance, and he is happiest in the pas de deux for Hoffmann and the doll. Ari Takahashi, a demurely funny automaton, was warmly applauded. As the nemesis figure, Robert Hampton had too much make up and not enough presence.

The next beloved dances herself to death, when hypnotised by the evil genius. Darrell makes this the basis of a vision scene modelled on 19th- century classical ballets. It is not a success. The pas de deux is trickily uncomfortable. Lines of movement are interrupted by the logistics of getting that leg here and this arm there for yet another fussy lift. It takes enormous style and authority to pull off uninspired classical writing; a medium-sized company just doesn't have the resources.

Under the strain of these adventures, our hero turns to religion. In spite of this, he finds himself at a Venetian carnival, resisting seduction at every turn.

Vampy types try to pull off his crucifix; when the courtesan Giulietta succeeds, he fears his immortal soul is lost. His solution is to make the sign of the cross with a couple of discarded whips, whereupon the wicked carnival flees. This sort of thing was naff enough in Hammer Horror films; as the heroic climax to a supposedly serious ballet, it is risible.

The company dance Tales of Hoffmann with more care than it deserves. Adam Cooper made valiant efforts in the title role, but even he failed to convince; Darrell's choreography is too limited.

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