Gather round for a Royal Ballet masterpiece

PUBLISHED: 17:24 11 June 2008 | UPDATED: 15:08 07 September 2010

Edward Thorpe sees popular ballet revived after 30 years of pleading by critics, but with very different outcomes Royal Ballet Royal Opera House Five star rating Rambert Dance Company Sadler s Wells One star rating At every Royal Ballet press confe

Edward Thorpe sees popular ballet irevived after 30 years of pleading by critics, but with very different outcomes

Royal Ballet

Royal Opera House

Five star rating

Rambert Dance Company

Sadler's Wells

One star rating

At every Royal Ballet press conference for the last 30 years I, together with many other dance critics, have asked, implored, beseeched, that Jerome Robbins's masterpiece ballet Dances At A Gathering be restored to the repertoire. Now, at last, that wish has been granted.

The basic simplicity of the work is transcended in performance into something inexplicably heart-warming, something that instils a feeling of fellowship, a love of life, of the fundamental relationships between men and women.

Five couples, differentiated by the pastel colours of their costumes, interact through a seamless flow of dances, solos, duets, trios, ensembles, that reveal a range of emotions: humorous, affectionate, tender, contemplative, competitive.

Near the end of the ballet one of the dancers places his hand, as it were, on the earth, connecting us all to our environment.

Nothing is brash or overly demonstrative; everything is subtle, implied.

The dances are performed to a number of piano pieces by Chopin, waltzes, mazurkas, etudes, a scherzo and a nocturne, all beautifully played by Philip Gammon - a lovely recital in itself.

Although both Robbins, in creating the work, and Ben Huys, responsible for this restaging, encouraged the dancers to reveal their own personalities and not to push for display, nevertheless, the ballet demands tremendous hidden virtuosity - the art that conceals art - from each dancer.

I must congratulate all 10 participants in the first cast: Alina Cojocaru, Tamara Rojo, Laura Morera, Lauren Cuthbertson, Sarah Lamb, Johan Kobborg, Martin Harvey, Federico Bonelli, Sergei Polunin and Jose Martin for so marvellously re-interpreting a work that surprised Robbins himself at the way it evolved so spontaneously. We must hope that this ballet is never allowed to fall from the repertoire for so long again.

Dances At A Gathering is coupled with another masterpiece, Frederick Ashton's The Dream, his lovely distillation of Shakespeare's comedy.

The cast I saw included Edward Watson as a particularly malevolent Oberon, Leanne Benjamin as an imperious Titania, Michael Stojko as an energetic Puck and Jonathan Howells as a cleverly observed Bottom, his dance on pointe well executed. Deirdre Chapman, David Pickering, Isabel McMeekan and Valeri Hristov extracted all the humour from the quartet of quarrelling lovers.

Although, all round, this was not the best performance of the work I have seen, the ballet never fails to work its own magic and this is a programme to cherish and remember.

I cannot enthuse much over Rambert Dance Company's latest programme at Sadler's Wells. Scribblings, by the American choreographer Doug Varone, has his 17 dancers running madly about the stage, mostly backwards, wildly flailing their limbs in a pool of light from a huge overhanging metal lamp-shade. The central movement of John Adams's noisy Chamber Symphony is taken up with a writhing duet for Thomasin Gulgec and Malgorzata Dzierzon on, over and under each other almost entirely on the floor and looking like nothing so much as two drunks wrestling with each other.

A revival of Siobhan Davies' delightful Carnival Of The Animals to Saint-Saens' popular suite brought some solace to the spirit.

Davies does not try anything anthropomorphic or literal with each section, just a witty, sometimes surreal, elegant response to the score in which Alexander Whitley's Swan was outstanding.

Anatomica No 3 by Canadian Andre Gingras has a line-up of dancers dressed as identical female royal personages who, after divesting themselves of their regalia, spend the rest of the work running up a steep ramp and sliding and jumping off onto rubber mats to the clangorous accompaniment of percussive music by Joseph Hyde. Another work that seems unworthy of Rambert's fine choreographic history.


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