When the BBC didn't dislike ballet

It's ironic that in the 1950s and early 1960s, when the BBC had only one television channel, they broadcast more ballet then they do now they have four. One of the TV Directors specializing in dance programmes at this time was Margaret Dale - as it happens she was the first to have much of her work preserved in the Archives. The National Film Theatre is running a short season of programmes made up of selections from her work: this evening's consisted of four intriguing glimpses into the ballet scene of 45 years ago.

The first was broadcast during the Kirov's first visit to Britain, in 1961: the first act of The Stone Flower was broadcast (from a studio, not as an outside broadcast) on August 6th. The ballet, choreographed by Yuri Grigorovich to music by Prokofiev, is a simple fairy-tale story: the choreography is simple and undemanding, but appealing: and was charmingly danced by the Kirov company including Yuri Soloviev and Alla Sizova.

Next we saw an excerpt from Act 1 of Giselle, with Nadia Nerina in the title role. The dancers were assembled specially for this studio production, which came over well apart from some over-close close-ups (of course it was never intended to be seen on a cinema screen, rather on a maximum size of 20 inches). This was originally broadcast on November 23rd 1958.

In both cases Margaret Dale (herself a dancer earlier in her career) directed with sensitivity and gave a good impression of the works: of course the recordings were in black-and-white and suffered somewhat from the 405-line structure, but both were well worth seeing.

A brief but fascinating excerpt from an edition of Monitor (the flagship Arts programmes) from 1961 showed Dame Ninette de Valois (the founder of the Royal Ballet) rehearsing a studio production of The Rake's Progress (if it still exists that would be worth seeing).

Finally the Royal Ballet performed Ashton's short ballet Les Rendezvous - here the recording was from a 625-line original (originally broadcast on April 19th 1962) and the quality was much improved. The ballet, which has no plot but is simply couples meeting and dancing in various emotional situations, was wittily danced by some famous names including Merle Park, Petrus Bosman, Doreen Wells and Brian Shaw.

There are many more ballets in the BBC Archives from this period - this season had three other programmes: nowadays we are lucky to get one popular ballet at Christmas - though this year we have had the Swan Lake I complained about, and a truncated Song of the Earth - only broadcast because it was Darcy Bussell's farewell performance: it would have been nice if they had credited their audience with the intelligence to sit through the entire work. The assumption seems to be that artistic minority interests are not worth bothering about any more.

Posted: Mon - June 25, 2007 at 09:28 PM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM