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Sleeping Beauty.

City Ballet of London Buxton Opera House, Derbyshire, England September 30-October 4, 1997 Reviewed by Christopher Bowen

Reinventing the classics is nothing new; in continental Europe mainstream choreographers like John Neumeier, Roland Petit, and Mats Ek have been doing it for years. But the current trend for reinterpreting ballet's classical repertory which has lately gripped the smaller dance ensembles in, Britain seems as much a product of market forces as of artistic innovation. This development makes a kind of sense, though. After all, if you don't have the resources to muster forty-eight swans or even a couple of dozen wilis, yet your audience is clamoring for the classics, isn't it better to completely re-form these ballets to suit the size and performing strength of your company, rather than cut the old choreographic cloth to fit? Yes ... and no.

Christopher Gable's Northern Ballet Theatre, based in Leeds, has carved a popular niche for itself over the past decade as a company that puts a particularly dramatic spin on ballet's traditional tales. Yet with his new Giselle, Gable hasn't quite resolved the problems inherent in distorting nineteenth-century romanticism to fit late-twentieth-century theatrical tastes.

Still, there is much that is dramatically compelling about this production. By staging the work in a war-ravaged urban ghetto, Gable paints a clear picture of Giselle (Jayne Regan) and her friends as the downtrodden victims of a vicious military regime. In this setting Albrecht (Denis Malinkine) is a soldier--a member of the ruling forces rather than merely the ruling class--an interpretation that lends greater significance than usual to the discovery of his true identity. Here, not only Giselle, but her entire community, is betrayed. And it is the bloody ramifications of this betrayal that a guilt-ridden Albrecht imagines in the second act, as his victims (male and female) seek their revenge.

As with most NBT productions, there is a wealth of dramatic detail, and the subsidiary roles are fleshed out to the full. Hilarion in this version is a nerdy, bookish type (a telling portrayal by Luc Jacobs) who touchingly includes a few much-needed vegetables among the bouquet of flowers he deposits on Giselle's doorstep, while Charlotte Talbot's Bathilde might as well be named Eva (Braun or Peron--take your pick), with her sights clearly set on greater things than Albrecht has to offer.

As a piece of theater it largely works, but it is the dance in this dance-drama that fails to engage, chiefly because Gable and his associate choreographer, Michael Pink, attempt to speak two languages at the same time. For the ensemble, Gable and Pink have developed their own vocabulary of folk-based, quasi-expressionist movement--which sits fine with the setting, even if it doesn't do much for Adam's traditional music. Trouble is, most of the Coralli-Perrot choreography for Giselle and Albrecht's solos and duets has been retained, which makes the couple look as if they have been beamed down from another era. Regan, Gable's muse and one of the finest dramatic dancers in Britain, acts up a storm in the title role, but Gable does her no favors by imposing this stylistic gearshift.

At least with City Ballet of London's Sleeping Beauty, one might say that there is a unity of style, though quite what that style is--well, neoclassical-postmodern-contemporary-burlesque should cover it. Let no one say of Michael Rolnick that he is a choreographer lacking catholic taste.

This universality has been reflected in David Blight's costume designs, which feature the Lilac Fairy and her retinue as 1920s flappers, the Queen in Imperial Russian finery, and a hunt scene straight out of Mame. As for Carabosse's crew, priapic protuberances are all the rage. Which is the thrust--so to speak--of Rolnick's approach to the ballet. This is The Sleeping Beauty as a sexual rite-of-passage tale. Which, of course, it is. It's just that most choreographers don't include bump-and-grind moves for Aurora's cavaliers during the Rose Adagio. City Ballet of London's Sleeping Beauty is a production for the dropped-jaw hall of fame.
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Title Annotation:Buxton Opera House, Derbyshire, England
Author:Bowen, Christopher
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Feb 1, 1998
Previous Article:Giselle.
Next Article:Edward II.

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