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Review 1, 3-24: Ashley, King of Scots
How a 'Sassenach' Proved a Dance Company was not Quite Dead Yet
Copyright 2006 Josephine Leask
LONDON -- Until last
week, when it brought a mixed program and a new version of "Cinderella"
to Sadler's Wells, Scottish Ballet had not played here for six years,
during which time the company has been reshaped, more or less behind
closed doors, in a studio at its Glasgow headquarters, under the
careful eye of artistic director Ashley Page. When the former Royal
Ballet principal, who began choreographing for that company under
Anthony Dowell, took over in 2002, the troupe was on its knees with
no money and no artistic direction, and on the brink of closing.
Page was a 'risk' in the Scottish dance audience's eyes. First and
foremost, he was a threatening Sassenach (to cite the derogatory
name the Scots give to the English) who embodied all the 'threatening'
sophisticated and fashionable trappings of a dancer and choreographer
living in London, and had a reputation for creating 'controversial'
works with his expansive network of English and international collaborators.
Page in his turn also
had pretty firm ideas about what he wanted to do with this burnt-out
troupe, which included bringing in new and young national and international
talent and training the company up so that it would be versatile
enough to handle a broad spectrum of classical and contemporary
styles. He consequently took on the role of curator, inviting a
range of choreographers to make new work and reinterpret existing
work for the company so that its repertory could really broaden
out. William Forsythe, Stephen Petronio, and Siobhan Davies are
among those who have worked with the company since Page arrived.
Also on his agenda was the re-education of a generally narrow-minded
audience by exposing it to diversity rather than sticking with 'safe'
tradition. But Page struggled with Scottish Ballet's public who,
in spite of being largely drawn from the increasingly cosmopolitan
city of Glasgow, didn't like the company's new look, disapproving
of its flamboyant designs and racy costumes and remaining wary of
the new choreographers he was introducing.
However, Page persisted
with his vision. He unflinchingly presented ultimatums to the company's
board, threatening to quit if it didn't support his vision, and
tirelessly made Scottish Ballet's case to the funding bodies. When
he was finally able to bring the company to Sadler's Wells and London,
it looked fresh, affluent and confident. When I caught "Cinderella"
March 15, I felt that Page's reworked but not radical version of
the ballet, set to Prokoviev's score, was a feast for the eyes,
both glamorous and gorgeous.
Crafted by the international
designer Antony McDonald, a long-time Page collaborator, the sets
are gaudy and highly kitsch, resembling the interiors of post-modern
designer Phillip Starck. These include bright pinks and greens,
busy wallpaper, leopard skin patterns and ornate furnishings. It's
a collision of a traditional 18th-century aesthetic and experimental
20th-century 'art school' concepts or, as the program notes put
it, "Vivienne Westwood meets Andy Warhol." Likewise the lavish costumes
are a mixture of old French aristocracy and contemporary Punk as
seen by fashion designers such as Galliano and Lacroix. What is
interesting is that even the party costumes of Cinderella and the
Prince are noticeably toned down and modest in comparison to those
of almost all the other characters, as if to make us really focus
on the primary couple's dancing, rather then their characters.
The narrative of "Cinderella"
has also been injected with a sinister edge, true to most fairy
tales, but not often seen in traditional versions of the ballet.
The stepmother (in the cast I saw, Limor Ziv), a sexually aggressive
dominatrix, forces her daughters to mutilate their feet in order
to fit into the glass slipper and there is an undercurrent of child
abuse in the manner in which she treats Cinderella, as she whips
her and stuffs her mouth with paper. The final scene of the ballet
depicts Cinderella's stepsisters (Patricia Hines and Diana Loosmore)
as impoverished, decrepit creatures, limping along with their eyes
having been "pecked out by two white doves," pushing their decaying
mother in a wheelchair. Other dark depictions include casting Cinderella's
father (Robert Doherty) as an alcoholic and the fairy Godmother
(Soon Ja Lee) as a Gothic Diva with all kinds of surreal tricks
up her fashionable sleeves. The two most traditionally drawn characters
are of course Cinderella, danced by the very petite Tomomi Sato,
and her Prince, the equally slight Adam Blyde. Sato, in spite of
being waif-like, emanates a glowing warmth in her dancing, while
Blyde is rather less engaging to watch.
addition to the narrative is a scene situated in an 'Enchanted Garden,'
where the Godmother introduces the four seasons -- Joanne Bungay,
Sophie Martin, Martina Forioso and Ruth Vaquerizo Garcia -- all
exquisitely dressed and possessing characteristics and movement
dynamics relevant to each season: broad and open gestures for spring
and summer, fast and spiky for autumn and subdued, inward looking
movements for winter.
Each scene unfolds smoothly,
like the turning pages of a riveting book. The actual dancing is
upbeat and the performers are generous to the audience in the way
they project. Although they are young, their interpretation of character
through an execution of technique, gesture and mime is considered
and heart-felt. While some of the stage designs and costumes are
fantastically flamboyant, the dancing is not, but rather measured
and compact, although never belittled by the rich designer trimmings.
Surely this production
of "Cinderella," which shows off Scottish Ballet as it's never been
seen before, will charm even the most inflexible of Scottish hearts,
with its compromising mixture of familiar and unfamiliar, magic