Scènes/Voluntaries/Rite: read all about it!
Have you got your tickets yet for the next ballet triple which starts this weekend (Saturday 28 May)? It’s the last of the Season and promises a glorious mixture of ballet style and technique, with two ballets to music by Stravinsky (one by Ashton and one by MacMillan), and a Glen Tetley piece to a Poulenc organ concerto. Here’s a quick roundup of facts and figures for this terrific 20th-century triple.
Scènes de ballet / Voluntaries / The Rite of Spring – 28 May- 11 June Ticket information
Scènes de ballet
Frederick Ashton’s study in dance geometry
Music: Igor Stravinsky
Choreography: Frederick Ashton
Designs: André Beaurepaire
Lighting design: John B Read
Staging: Christopher Carr
World premiere: 11 February 1948, Sadler’s Wells Ballet, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Ashton created Scènes de ballet in 1948, inspired partly by his new interest in classical geometry. He famously said ‘I wanted to do a ballet that could be seen from any angle – anywhere could be front, so to speak. So I did these geometric figures that are not always facing front – if you saw Scènes de ballet from the wings, you’d get a very different but equally good picture.’ However, despite its geometric underpinnings, Scènes de ballet still brims with Ashton’s signature shades of character and feeling. Read more.
Glen Tetley’s ballet tribute to the late John Cranko
Composer: Francis Poulenc
Choreography: Glen Tetley
Costume design: Rouben Ter-Arutunian
Lighting design: John B Read
Staging: Bronwen Curry
Glen Tetley created Voluntaries in 1973 for Stuttgart Ballet at the invitation of its director, his great friend and admired colleague John Cranko. Sadly, before Tetley had begun work on the ballet, Cranko died unexpectedly. The work then took on a new layer of meaning, becoming a mournful tribute to Cranko. The choice of music, Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Percussion, sets an elegiac tone. The famous organ concerto is a voluntary – a term used for organ improvisations that are often played in the preludes and interludes of religious services. It has a great range of mood, from the joyful to spiritual. Cranko’s choreographic response to the music is essentially abstract, but has inevitable religious undertones. The dancers’ purity of movement, use of high lifts and soaring jumps hint, perhaps, at man’s desire to be more heaven-bound. Read more.
The Rite of Spring
Kenneth MacMillan’s frenzied pagan ritual for the ballet stage
Composer: Igor Stravinsky
Choreographer: Kenneth MacMillan
Set and costume designer: Sidney Nolan
World premiere: 3 May 1962,
Revival lighting designer: John B Read
Revival staging: Christopher Saunders
The Rite of Spring is one of the most famous 20th-century ballets – one that caused a riot when first performed in Paris in 1913. It is not clear if audiences objected most to Stravinsky’s discordant music and irregular rhythms, Nijinsky’s anti-balletic choreography, or the primitive designs of Russian artist Nicholas Roerich. All three were boldly modern, inspired by a desire to return to primal, original forms. The work’s very narrative was that of a prehistoric Russian tribe about to sacrifice a virgin to their gods in a terrifying fertility ritual.
Nijinksy’s 1913 choreography has now been largely lost (although a recreation of it was staged in 2003 by the Kirov), but many other choreographers have tackled Stravinsky’s score. The Royal Ballet’s version was choreographed by Kenneth MacMillan for the company in 1962. He reused the original scenario but with designs by the Australian painter Sidney Nolan. Dancers wear unisex lyrca unitards dyed the colour of Australia’s red sand, and decorated with hand prints in the manner of aboriginal body art. Read more.