Tuesday, 18 November 2008

I listened to a simply marvellous ballet. . .

This weekend I went to see the National Ballet of Canada's production of The Seagull, choreographed by John Neumeier. Chekhov's play lends itself very well to a balletic adaptation - here Kostya and Trigorin are choreographers instead of playwrights with Arkadina a celebrated dancer and Nina ultimately becoming a chorus girl. This allows Neumeier to have fun with very different styles of dance and costumes, particularly for Kostya's experimental numbers. The set was absolutely stunning, but ultimately I found a good chunk of the production fairly dull. This may have been because I was up in the fifth balcony where it was unbelievably stuffy, but mostly I think the choice of music, particularly in the first act (Shostakovich's Sympony No. 15 for the most part), was too slow and plodding and just didn't do justice to all the tensions between the characters. As usual, Masha stole the show.
Still, I'm glad I went, if only to be introduced to an absolutely lovely piece of music (Shostakovich's Piano Concerto No. 2 F-Major, op. 102), which was used for the first "innocent" dance between Nina and Kostya even though, dressed all in white, they could have just stepped out from a Calvin Klein ad. Ah, but what a lovely piece - I'm listening to it now on my iPod as I write this. Because of course - I had to go out and buy the CD. And as luck would have it, as I was browsing the racks I found another completely charming ballet CD to add to, of all things, my Noel Coward collection. Called The Grand Tour: The Ballet Music of Noel Coward, it contains the music from two ballets - The Grand Tour and London Morning. Now, these I would like to see!

The Grand Tour was created by choreographer Joe Layton and premiered in 1971. Set on the deck of a luxury 1930s cruiseliner, the ballet features solos and duets with the passengers who are none other than George Bernard Shaw, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas (wouldn't that be fascinating to see?) and Gertrude Lawrence and Coward himself. According to the liner notes, Lawrence and Coward dance to "I'll See You Again" where they, "interlink cigarette holders in a most moving way!". Oh, how fabulous. The music is of course all based on famous Coward tunes and it's wonderful to have them given the full orchestra treatment on this CD.

London Morning was commissioned by the English National Ballet in 1959 and the plot is very simple. It's set in front of Buckingham Palace where a series of people pass by the gates and watch the changing of the Guard. There's a suburban family, business men in bowler hats, school girls, a sailor and a young American girl that he falls in love with - Coward has written music for them all. A lovely Pas de Deux for the lovers and even a bit of rain music at the end that segues straight into his song "London Pride" complete with chimes. And if I was just hearing this music (save for the last song) without knowing the composer, I would never have guessed it was Coward; one is simply not used to hearing allegros and preludes attributed to him. But I'm delighted to have discovered this additional musical side to him.

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