London — What style of ballet do you prefer? Pure and classical, in long, flowing tulle tutus? Tragic, to stirring music and lavish settings? Light and lyrical, fast and flowing? Or modern, acrobatic, dramatic, with stark sets?
Here in London these days you can see all four styles on a single evening, as the Royal Ballet Company celebrates its 50th anniversary season at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden with a nonstop collection of the old and the new.
The company will be taking this same kind of versatility to the United States and Canada later in the year. Between June 15 and Aug. 2 it will perform in New York, Boston, Washington, and Toronto, will full-length classics as well as shorter works.
American audiences may not see exactly the same program I saw the other night , but they will be able to see the various styles the company does so well.
In the bustling, crowded Covent Garden Opera House I saw, in the space of 2 1 /2 hours:
Pure and classical -- "Les Sylphides," danced to Chopin's nocturne, mazurkas, and waltzes by Lesley Collier, Jennifer Penney and Wayne Eagling. Costumes were new. The setting was splendid, even though the corps de ballet was not always together, and its arms were not as ethereal as they might have been, losing a little of the fairy atmosphere.
Tragic -- the premier of Hamlet -- actually a revival of the original Royal Ballet production choreographed and danced in 1942 by Robert (now Sir Robert) Helpmann. The star was Anthony Dowell. Antoinette Sibley returned to the stage after an absence of almost six years because of injury to play Ophelia. Both acted superbly, though they did not have much opportunity to display their dancing techniques. Helpmann condensed the plots and plays of Shakespeare into 20 very busy and active minutes. Music was the Tchaikovsky fantasy-overture. Not really a ballet as such, but riveting nonetheless.
Light and lyrical -- "Voices of Spring," a spring breeze after the storms of Elsinore. A charming Sir Frederick Ashton duet, originally from the opera Fledermaus by Strauss. Merle Park floated romantically in waltz time, ably partnered by Wayne Eagling, who had shed his solemn Sylphides character and smiled as he danced. It began and ended with rose petals -- scattered by Miss Park as she was carried in, and raining down on both dancers at the end, accenting the joyful mood.
Modern, acrobatic -- The new Kenneth MacMillan ballet "Gloria," to the Gloria in G major by Poulenc, sung by soprano Irene Evans and part of the Royal Opera chorus. MacMillan contemplates the grief of the generation growing up before World War I and then looks back at the tragedy that overtook it.The program notes included a poem by Vera Brittain (mother of modern-day British politician Shirley Williams) which gives the essence: "The War Generation: Ave."
The company emerged from the rear of the stage, walking up over a mound and down to stage front. The mood was intense, with a sense of impending war and grief. Soloists included Wayne Eagling, Jennifer Penney, Julian Hoskin, and Wendy Ellis.
all of the principal dancers I saw will be on the US and Canadian tour.
The evening's production showed how far ballet has come in the past 72 years -- from mid-calf tutus to re-created wardens' helmets of World War I, from running swiftly en pointe and holding a pose, fingers under chin, eyes upward, to slithering and sliding around each other, and quicksilver turns and leaps and acrobatic movements.
American audiences ar e in for a treat.