Isadora at Covent Garden

Isadora Duncan was a dancer famous in the first two decades of the last century for her solo free-form dance performances: she led an extravagant private life and is also remembered for dying by catching her scarf in the wheel of a car she was in and strangling.

Kenneth MacMillan's two-act biographical ballet Isadora was first performed by the Royal Ballet in 1981: the highly complex production, using what is now called 'multimiedia', ran into technical difficulties and the work was not well received. Now it has been revived by the Royal Ballet in a shortened one act version; I saw the last of the current run of performances yesterday evening.

Running about an hour, the work has been simplified from the original. Basically it interleaves to almost separate presentations: the ballet itself, and film sequences compiled from archive film of the period, together with recorded readings from her autobiography. (The films are merely atmospheric - there is no film in existence of Duncan herself dancing, apart from one one brief clip of dubious authenticity).

The ballet alternates choreographed representations of incidents in her life with solo performances as she might have given them, influenced by these events. These latter are the strongest points in the ballet, convincingly and movingly performed by Tamara Rojo: the biographical scenes are less effective. They do need the narrations to explain what is going on, but the ballet and film sections sit uncomfortably together - and the narrations, though interesting, do have a level of ranting about them (to say she was opiniated would be putting it gently).

I have to say that I feel it would have been better to cut the film sequences back, and have the minimum amount of narration necessary to clarify the action; in particular some very early dance films at the beginning are confusing as they are not by Duncan and, as there is a live dance sequence in similar Edwardian style, are really rather redundant.

However, and despite the uniformly unenthusiastic reviews it's received, I do think it was worth reviving, and much of it is interesting and enjoyable.

The other ballet yesterday was the splendid Dances At A Gathering, which I saw and wrote about last June: I think better performed, with more assurance, than last year, despite the fact that no less than three of the ballerinas had been replaced from the originally intended casting because of illness or injury. Yuhui Choe and Leanne Benjamin in particular stood out, but all of them seem to be better able to settle their personalities into the choreography.

Posted: Sun - March 22, 2009 at 09:18 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM