Within the last month the Royal Ballet has been throwing gala 50 th-anniversary parties for itself at Covent Garden, London. Now the golden jubilee has moved to the Metropolitan Opera, where the Royal Ballet dances through July 4. The sense of occasion was clinched when Prince Charles attended a "The Sleeping Beauty" benefit performance for various Anglo-American organizations as well as for the Royal Ballet itself.
Besides being a signature of the Royal Ballet, "The Sleeping Beauty" is the perfect ballet for a royal audience. Underlying its story of romantic love between princess and prince is a subtext emphasizing the importance of royal succession. That message couldn't be made at a more appropriate time in Prince Charles's life, on the eve of his own wedding.
"The Sleeping Beauty" also turned out to be appropriate in an unhappy way. For just as the wicked fairy Carabosse threatens to disrupt royal proceedings in the ballet, so did Irish nationalists seated in the audience threaten to disrup the ballet with their loud speechmaking. The dancers, who must have been shaken by the several commotions in the theater, carried on with amazing aplomb, as though Carabosse were the only danger. Order eventually prevailed, but for a while there art and life got terribly mixed up.
The next morning, the entire audience got into the act by stagin a spectacular ovation for Sir Frederick Ashton, whose ballets are most closely entwined with Royal Ballet style and repertory. Such was the acclaim that Ashton made a little curtain speech thanking Americans for their warmth and enthusiasm. Anoinette Sibley, a longtime favorite of New Yorkers who has come out of retirement for this engagement, also got on ovation even though the part she danced was peasized.
If New York audiences have been responding to the Royal Ballet's anniversary season as though the company were their own, the Royal has not returned the compliment with the same fervor. The dancing in "The Sleeping Beauty" has been proper but lackluster. Within the five years that the Royal was last at the Met , no major ballerinas have been developed. While the company's understanding of the style and decorum of "The Sleeping Beauty" is so ingrained they could probably dance it in their sleep, sometimes it looks as if they arem doing it in their sleep.
Perhaps the company is bored with its signature work. In any case, the dancers certainly looked more alert in the mixed-bill program, designed to pay tribute to choreographer s important to the company. Ashton, of course, was the featured choreographer and represented by an older ballet and a New York premiere, "Rhapsody." Originally made as a vehicle for Mikhail BAryshnikov, who guested with the Royal Ballet last summer, "Rhapsody" minus Baryshinikov loses some of its point. But its duet for Anthony Dowell and Lesley Collie confirms Ashton's position as the great English choreographer.
The most interesting work was a revival of Robert Helpmann's "Hamlet," because it's such an accurate reflection of the time in which it was made, 1942. This "Hamlet" is an all-out Freudian extravaganza in whch all action is reduced to a series of complexes. Everyone lusts after the "wrong" person, and poor Hamlet can't tell the difference between Ophelia and his mother. "Hamlet" is interesting mainly as a curiosity piece. Despite its modern structure and approach to dramatic material, it seems infinitely older than "The Sleeping Beauty."