Ups and Downs

“Alice in Wonderland”
28 December 2006 – 7 January 2007
10 – 13 January 2007
English National Ballet
London Coliseum

London, U.K.

by John Percival
copyright 2007, John Percival

In an extended Christmas and New Year London season, English National Ballet followed the usual run of “Nutcracker” with two other ballets that had already been revived on tour. First came “Alice in Wonderland”, a work I remember not liking much when it was first given in 1995 — but I had forgotten quite how boring it is. The idea of putting Lewis Carroll's stories on stage has some immediate appeal until you remember how lacking in narrative it is. So we just get bits and pieces of action, unrelated to each other. This isn't helped by the score arranged from Tchaikovsky fragments by Carl Davis; my impression is that the music specially written by Joseph Horovitz for a previous production by the company in 1953 worked better, and certainly several other companies took it up. Sue Blane's designs are the best feature of the present staging, cleverly adapted from the original illustrations by Sir John Tenniel.

Unfortunately Derek Deane's choreography is not very interesting. One or two dancers manage to bring their roles to life, notably at the performance I saw Dmitri Gruzdyev as the Knave of Hearts, apparently relishing the chance to be funny as well as brilliant, and lovely little Maria Kochetkova as the cute Dormouse (why is this highly gifted dancer still left in the corps de ballet, although she consistently out-dances several of senior rank?).

The other ballet given was “Giselle”, in a revival of Mary Skeaping's 1971 production, supervised now by Beryl Grey, the former artistic director who first commissioned it. This version is very stylish and gives a better idea than most of how the ballet originally looked in the 1840s. It is, however, excessively long with some dances that don't really advance the action.

Among several casts, I chose to see Elena Glurdjidze in the title role: a gorgeous dancer outstanding as much for her personality, expressiveness and warmth as for her beautiful technique, delicious arms and musicality. Born in Tbilisi, she studied there and at the Vaganova School in Petersburg. She deserves a more vivid Albrecht than the Cuban Arionel Vargas. Another corps de ballet dancer, tall Jenna Lee, made a fine Queen of the Wilis. The supporting company as a whole is looking pretty good.

There has been some fuss and bother over Simone Clarke since she was (as I reported recently) revealed in a newspaper report as a member of the extreme right-wing British National Party. This culminated on 12 January when about fifty people demonstrated outside the theatre when she was to dance a matinee as Giselle. One or two audience members also shouted protests during her first solo until removed by attendants. This information is based on press reports; I wasn't there because I don't find her satisfying in ballerina roles.

On a more positive side, ENB is to mount one-act ballets by David Dawson and Christopher Hampson during the next couple of months, and then in October will premiere a full-evening “Snow Queen” with choreography by Michael Corder and a score arranged by Julian Philips from music by Prokofiev, chiefly the much neglected “Stone Flower”. Not bad for a company supposed to be in a poor financial state; let's hope it works for them.

First (and front page), a scene from "Alice in Wonderland." Photo by Bill Cooper.
Second, English National Ballet's corps de ballet in the second act of "Giselle." Photo by Patrick Baldwin.

Volume 5, No. 3
January 15, 2007

copyright ©2007 John Percival
©2003-2007 DanceView