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The Royal Ballet in Ashton’s Scènes de Ballet. Photo by Dee Conway, Courtesy ROH.
Frederick Ashton: Triple Bill
Les Patineurs, Divertissements, Scènes de Ballet. Opus Arte.
Though best-known for the sunny comedy of La Fille Mal Gardée and the shimmering magic of The Dream, Frederick Ashton created a magnificently varied repertoire that has largely disappeared from the stage. The Royal Ballet’s fascinating compilation of live performances recorded by the BBC includes two complete works, Les Patineurs and Scènes de Ballet—and a selection of six divertissements—which together celebrate the extraordinary range of his talent and imagination.
An impassioned Tamara Rojo steals the show in one of the short pieces, Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan, fusing dramatic and musical subtleties to evoke the legendary performer. Viacheslav Samodurov is equally compelling in a stately variation from the long-lost Devil’s Holiday, which weaves statuesque poses and port de bras into a vision of noble simplicity.
The four pas de deux embody distinct facets of romance, from oriental languor in Thaïs to swirling giddiness in Voices of Spring. Past stars, such as Darcey Bussell, and current favorites, such as Carlos Acosta and the effervescent Leanne Benjamin, shape each fluid phrase into the sinuous curves that Ashton prized so highly.
Pretty as a Victorian valentine, Les Patineurs transforms ice skating into a charming entertainment that challenges dancers to the limit; Ashton created it in 1937 to help train Sadler’s Wells Ballet’s young artists. Framed by lacy arches, a lively ensemble, and two pairs of women, a couple of dreamy lovers and a male virtuoso glide across the rink by turn. They skim, spin, and jump as if absorbing their speed and power directly from the ice. Secure in his remarkable skill, Steven McRae polishes off the Blue Boy’s intricate variations with jaunty clarity, and Samantha Raine and Akane Takada as the Blue Girls bring an insouciant sparkle to their dizzying turns.
As abstract as its music, Scènes de Ballet takes dance itself as its subject, coolly adopting the rigorous architecture of Stravinsky’s tart, angular score. Ashton claimed he became “fascinated with geometrical figures, and...wanted to do a ballet that could be seen from any angle,” so the occasional shot from the wings suits this work perfectly. It’s difficult to appreciate the overall structure when the camera thrusts us among the performers, but Ashton’s ingenuity shines through every sequence, as it does from every moment of this captivating collection. —Barbara Newman
Dance on TV
If you’re looking for an escapist Broadway musical, Memphis is not your thing. But if you want a funny, insightful show about pre-civil rights race relations with great singing and dancing along the way, tune in to PBS on Feb. 24. Christopher Ashley’s Memphis tells the story of a hyper white deejay (Chad Kimball) who falls in love with black music—and with a gorgeous black singer (Montego Glover). He puts “race music” on the air and all hell breaks loose. Sergio Trujillo’s choreography may not be exactly what people were doing in the all-black clubs of 1950s Memphis, but the combination of Broadway, jazz, and jitterbug is authentic enough. Check local listings. —Wendy Perron
Chad Kimball and Montego Glover. Photo by Broadway Worldwide, Courtesy PBS.
“Music, color, costumes, the set if there is any, space, time, rhythm, people, personalities...It’s like a gigantic three-dimensional crossword puzzle sometimes to fit these elements together...That’s where the craft comes in.” When legendary choreographer Paul Taylor describes his approach to making dances, he’s looking back at 135 works. For his newest piece, he has opened up the behind-the-scenes process to the public in an online venture dubbed “Create with Taylor.” (The “create” refers to supporting the Taylor creation, rather than contributing choreography). For $5, anyone with an internet connection can view rehearsal footage, photos, and blogs that document the work-in-progress. Supporters at this level will also be listed by name on the PTDC website. Since December, photographers Matthew Murphy and Whitney Browne have been sharing rehearsal images, and the Taylor dancers, as well as other members of the extraordinary creative team like lighting guru Jennifer Tipton and costume designer Santo Loquasto, have contributed blogs about the new work. And every Friday, rehearsal footage of the piece—which premieres in Syracuse, New York, in March—is posted. To become a “creator,” see www.createwithtaylor.org. —Kina Poon
From left: Michael Apuzzo, Paul Taylor, and Sean Mahoney rehearse the new work. Photo by Matthew Murphy, Courtesy PTDC.