“The Seven Deadly Sins”, “Pierrot Lunaire”, “La Fin du Jour”
Royal Ballet
Royal Opera House, Covent Garden,
London, UK
April 26 to May 9, 2007

by John Percival
copyright © 2007 by John Percival

This must be the worst programme the Royal Ballet has given for many years. First of all, the new work that began it, Will Tuckett's disastrous staging of “The Seven Deadly Sins”, gets us into a state of gloom. But the sadly thin revival of “La Fin du Jour” that ends the show doesn't do anything to make amends. Kenneth MacMillan created this ballet in 1979 to Ravel's second piano concerto. The stage is congested with the stylised gaping faces that make up Ian Spurling's decor, peering in from the sides and hanging from above. In what are alleged to be 1930s costumes two women, two men and a supporting group jiggle around, in beachwear, ball dresses or aviators' gear. The work was never a great hit even with the original cast of leading dancers under the choreographer's eye, and this restaging, with replacement leads and perhaps with limited rehearsal time, is unlikely to change that. Natasha Oughtred has lovely legs and looks extremely pretty, but that's not enough.

Between this and the show's disappointing new work came “Pierrot Lunaire”. This seems to me a bit lost in the wide Covent Garden spaces, and Glen Tetley's choreography, as staged by Bronwen Curry, looks rather prettified. Ivan Putrov in the title role, Deirdre Chapman as Columbine (inflicted with bizarrely exaggerated wigs) and Carlos Acosta as Brigella work meticulously but I've seen plenty better casts and productions from other companies.

As for Will Tuckett's contribution, a programme note assures us that his career has been driven by an instinct for story telling. It omits to mention that he has an impertinent and unjustified habit of thinking that he can improve on the authors whose work he mauls about. Witness, for instance what perils he inflicted on Arthur Miller in “The Crucible” or Oscar Wilde in “The Canterville Ghost”. He and his designer Lez Brotherston are quoted as suggesting that they could not find a sufficient plot in the “sung ballet” which author Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill wrote for George Balanchine's season of Les Ballets 1933 (based on a theme devised by benefactor Edward James and artistic director Boris Kochno). In that case, wouldn't it have been more honest and decent to decline the commission? Instead of that, they have shuffled the seven deadly sins into one mediocre misdemeanour: a none too convincing representation of lust.

Admittedly this is not an easy text to produce. MacMillan tackled it twice, for Western Theatre Ballet and the Royal Ballet: both versions flopped. The only successful staging I remember was presented by English National Opera (yes, opera not ballet), with Julie Covington and Siobhan Davies as the two embodiments, singer and dancer respectively, of the heroine Anna, and dances devised by Richard Alston. Unfortunately I never saw Balanchine's production, but the far-sighted Lincoln Kirstein liked the 1933 original enough to suggest a silver jubilee revival in 1958. And we are told that Balanchine succeeded in making every section look different, whereas Tuckett offers a messy and repetitious muddle: the same mindless impropriety over and over. Part of the problem is that although he can put on shows embodying some mild drama (and has done so several times in the Opera House's Linbury Studio), I am unconvinced that he has any gift for making choreography. His present cast try hard but can make little of their minimal roles. The four opera singers playing Anna's family are fine, but the singing Anna, Martha Wainwright, sounds raw and swallows many of her words, perhaps because of having to dance too. And although a photograph of the original Annas, Lotte Lenya and Tilly Losch, shows them looking almost identical, Wainwright doesn't greatly resemble her dancing Anna, Zenaida Yanowsky, despite similar garments and wigs. Poor Yanowsky mostly just has to parade her knickers and her belly-button, or writhe on a bed. She puts enough determination into this to deserve better opportunities. She isn't helped, incidentally, by being set against a rival figure called Stripper in the Pride episode (played by Marianela Nunez), or by introducing five more Annas in the final line-up. I had hoped for something interesting from Lez Brotherston in his first designs for the big Covent Garden stage, but these showed nothing of the quality he has achieved elsewhere. So the kindest thing I can say is that Kurt Weill's music is always worth hearing.

Front page: Ivan Putrov in "Pierrot Lunaire."
This page, top: Sarah Lamb, Ricardo Cervera in MacMillan's "Fin du Jour."
This page, bottom: Thiago Soares as the Strip Club Owner, Zenaida Yanowsky as Anna II, Marianela Nuñez as The Stripper in "Seven Deadly Sins."

Volume 5, No. 17
April 30, 2007

copyright ©2007 by John Percival

©2003-2007 DanceView