'Rolling on the floor' ballets

When I was young my mother took me to several visits by ballet companies to the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-on-Avon - Ballet Rambert among them if I remember correctly. Some of the ballets were in the classic style: some were quite modern. These latter rather went over my head at that age, and we classified them as 'rolling on the floor' ballets. The only one I remember now is House of Birds.

I suppose we would have classified the first ballet in yesterday evening's triple bill by the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House as a 'rolling on the floor' ballet, though in point of fact there was no actual floor-rolling (despite a fair amount of body contact with it). Choreographed by Wayne McGregor with music by Joby Talbot, Chroma explores the 'freedom from white' suggested by the technical term for colour intensity. In a white surround, dancers - mostly in couples and clad in pale pink and grey - perform angular and tense movements to a pulsating, almost jazzy, score for a large orchestra including a good deal of tuned percussion. Some movements recur - weight on one leg with that hip stuck out, stiff arms rotated like windmill sails - faintly reminiscent of the jazz dance movement of the 1950s: head movements like tall birds and classical lifts with stiff limbs.

The second ballet, Kenneth MacMillan's Different Drummer, draws on the play Woyzeck by Georg Büchner which also provided the basis for Berg's opera Wozzeck. The common soldier Woyzek (Ivan Putrov) is constantly humiliated by the Captain (David Pickering) and the evil Doctor (José Martin), and watches in despair as the Drum Major (Martin Harvey) easily seduces his common-law wife (Roberta Marquez); in the end Woyzek kills her. The atmosphere of military rank outweighing any sort of humanity is well caught by Macmillan's choreography, though I wondered whether the choice of Schoenberg's Verklaerte Nacht as part of the score was entirely suitable given its air of acceptance (though I may be unduly influenced by Anthony Tudor's prior use of it in Pillar of Fire). Strong acting as well as skilful dancing throughout a dark and disturbing ballet.

Where the floor-rolling in Different Drummer was entirely sexual, in the final ballet of the evening, The Rite of Spring, it was part of the primitive rite where a chosen girl has to dance herself to death to propitiate the gods. Nijinsky's original 1913 choreography to Stravinsky's startling score was set in an early Russia with colourful costumes (Stravinsky commented acidly that it showed 'a lot of knock-kneed Lolitas jumping up and down'); Kenneth MacMillan's 1962 interpretation is set in the primitive world of cave paintings and mud body daubings. A large body of dancers perform primitive gestures to the rhythmic score: Mara Galeazzi triumphed in the difficult role of the Chosen One who has to sacrifice herself. The score is no longer shocking as it was to the 1913 audience (who famously rioted) but this version of the ballet still carries a powerful charge.

I no longer need to regard 'rolling on the floor' as a term of disapproval where ballet concerned.

Posted: Sat - February 16, 2008 at 09:27 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM