Sunday, 28 March 2010


24/3/10, Royal Opera House

Three short Kenneth Macmillan ballets (including his last, The Judas Tree, created in 1992) revived as part of the Royal Ballet's season devoted to the man.

I missed the first, Concerto.

The Judas Tree was second: a dark work, in which a bunch of building workers disport (if that's the word) with a young woman, carried on under a sheet apparently dead, who then comes to life and flirts with them, teases them, is attacked by them, gang-raped by them and has her neck broken by the foreman.

Dark, disturbing and rather disturbed. Also muddled. The doll-like girl's neck is apparently broken twice by the foreman; the second time she comes to life, under the ministrations of one of the foreman's assistants, who movingly and cleverly picks her up, tosses her around like a ragdoll until she acquires a life of her own.

Much posturing and dramatic leaping by the men: I think you're meant to be able to smell the testosterone. Dramatic, dissonant music by Brian Elias, of whom we had never heard.

Leanne Benjamin danced the woman, brilliantly (to my untutored eye), though I thought I spotted a mistake early on when the three principal men were dancing together in a circle and she was trying to break in: she's supposed to lean forward, grasping for their hands with one of hers, while her back leg extends out behind her; she did this twice, successfully, but at the first attempt she seemed to misjudge it, they collided with her and knocked her off balance. Or maybe that was meant to happen.

Carlos Acosta danced the foreman (who hangs himself from a handy piece of scaffolding at the end). He got some applause when he came on and unlike the other men, dressed in various shades of workmen,s blue, he stood out in a white T-shirt; but it seemed to me that he had if anything even less to do than the other two leading men, and S (who knows about ballet) said afterwards that the applause was silly and that he was past his best.

The applause at the end seemed to reflect that judgement, with loads for her and not much for him and he graciously stood aside to let her take the spotlight. (But Lord, they do milk their curtain calls at Covent Garden).

The third work was Elite Syncopations, created in the 1970s to the music of Scott Joplin and other ragtime composers, when Joplin was all the rage in the wake of The Sting, and which I remember seeing with the parents when first unveiled. I loved it.

It's showing its age. Lots of dancers in brightly-coloured catsuits being variously cute, coy, outrageous; lots of striped waistcoats and bowler hats; the band on stage at the back conducted by the pianist and playing this most engaging of music with absolutely no sense of swing whatever -- it sounded like tuneful sludge.

Some spectacular dancing but I kept thinking of Cats, which was presumably a populsit rip-off of what was already, to be fair, a pretty crowd-pleasing kind of show.

Chiefly remarkable for some staggering dancing by Sarah Lamb, who can do things with her legs which ought to be impossible.

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