Sunday, 16 September 2012

Antony Hopkins: Café des Sports in the Ballet Annual 1956

I recently posted about the ballet Café des Sports and suggested that it may be worthy of a revival – at least in its ‘concert’ or ‘suite’ versions. Since then I have discovered a few more references to the work in the contemporary journals. It would appear that it received rather mixed reviews – with the emphasis being on ‘why did the choreographer bother’ and some negative comparisons with his then masterpiece, Blood Wedding. However, the music is never panned and the suggestion seems to be that kit is a good pastiche – but more about that later. Meanwhile I append the review from the Ballet Annual 1956.  I include a few notes as some of the ‘players’ and their ‘works’ may not be familiar to all readers. I apologies to all ballet lovers for deigning to give Fokine’s dates!
Comedy is the most difficult of all moods to convey in ballet. Fokine [1] was never tired of underlining that fact. It is borne out by the repertoire of the last twenty-five years. Le Beau Danube, Les Rendezvous, Deuil en 24 Heures and Pineapple Poll are truly light-hearted; Façade has a bite to it; Wedding Bouquet is a comedy masterpiece of ballet. [2]
There are many reasons for this difficulty in creating comedy. Ballet is an art of the highly organised, comedy calls for apparent mishaps.  Characterisation in ballet, with rare exceptions, is strictly limited to variations on the stock figures of Italian comedy and, in situation, to such obvious tricks as the human acting as a puppet and the puppet as human.
Alfred Rodrigues, [3] choreographer of the present ballet, is one of our most promising choreographers. He has a fine sense of drama (Blood Wedding) and a great sense of humour (Airs on a Shoe-String). [4] But ballet does not depend on the choreographer alone- it is high time that this was realised. The choreographer is wedded to his librettist, his composer and his designer.
Antony Hopkins has written a consciously clever but never really gay score. It has some amusing quotations and some, The Funeral March for instance, is trite and in doubtful taste. The music might have supported a satirical approach, never a light-hearted frolic. And what is the whole thing about? Why in fact was it set in France at all? Once can only surmise that this was because France seems ever so gay in English eyes and that all foreigners are comic. Oh, la, la, Oh, la, la!  And the scenery by Jack Taylor [5] smacks of Lancashire rather than Southern France, while the costumes are nondescript. It is to Rodrigues’ credit that he has been able to draw from this unpromising material some flashes of comic invention, and his cast, Maryon Lane in particular, excelled themselves; they nearly made bricks without straw.
The Tour de France is a Roland Petit [6] subject but then not only would Petit know and feel the atmosphere, he would be assisted by the finest composers, designers and librettists who knew what they wanted, a frolic à la Tati [7] or a satire. To poke fun at existentialism [8] in 1954 is completely pointless.
Ballet Annual 1956 

[1] Fokine Michel (1880-1942), choreographer and dancer: born in Russia and regarded as the originator of modern ballet. He worked with Diaghilev as director of the Ballet Russe (1909-15), producing works such as Les Sylphides and Petrushka
[2] Le Beau Danube, choreographed by Leonide Massine, music by Johann Strauss arranged by Roger Desormière, first performed 17 May 1924;
Les Rendezvous choreographed by Frederick Ashton, music by Auber arranged by Constant Lambert, first performed 5 December 1933;
Deuil en 24 Heures, choreographed by Roland Petit, music by Maurice Thiriet, first performed in 1933;
Pineapple Poll, choreographed by John Cranko, music by Arthur Sullivan arranged by Charles Makerras, decor by Osbert Lancaster, first performed 13 March 1951;
Façade, choreographed by Frederick Ashton, music by William Walton, first performed 26 April 1946.
A Wedding Bouquet, choreographed by Frederick Ashton, music by Lord Berners, first performed 27 April 1937.
[3] Alfred Rodrigues (1921- 2002). South African born dancer and choreographer.  He came to London in 1946 where he studied with Volkova and danced in the musical Song of Norway. A year later he joined Sadler's Wells Ballet, becoming soloist in 1949 and ballet master (1953-4). He choreographed his first ballet in 1938, going on to create, among others, Blood Wedding (mus. ApIvor, Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, 1953), The Miraculous Mandarin (mus. Bartók, Royal Ballet, 1956), Romeo and Juliet (mus. Prokofiev, La Scala, 1955), Vivaldi Concerto (Royal Danish Ballet, 1960), and Le Sacre du printemps for Warsaw Grand Opera. He also choreographed for several musicals. The Oxford Dictionary of Dance.  
4] Blood Wedding, ballet in one act, choreographed by Alfred Rodrigues, music by Denis ApIvor, first performed 5 June 1953.
Airs on a Shoestring was an ‘intimate revue’ devised by Laurier Lister and given at the Royal Court Theatre, London on 22 April, 1953. The cast included Moyra Fraser, Betty Marsden, Sally Rogers, Carole Newton, Patricia Lancaster, Eileen Price, Max Adrian, Bernard Hunter, Jack Gray, Denis Quilley, Charles Ross and Peter Reeves. The musical numbers were staged by Alfred Rodrigues.
[5] Jack Taylor, designer working at Sadler’s Wells in the nineteen-fifties.
[6] ‘à la Tati’ – in the manner of Jaques Tati (1907-1982) French comedy actor and film director

[7] Existentialism is ‘a chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on [an] analysis of individual ‘existence’ in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad’. Merriam Webster.

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