Singing at the Ballet

by Keith Clarke

What do dancers do when they break free from the corps de ballet? Carlos Acosta was a permanent member of the Royal Ballet for five years before becoming principal guest artist, leaving him free to do his own thing. Last year tickets were selling like hot cakes for his Premieres programme. This year’s version, Premieres Plus, has more empty seats, and has not fared too well with London’s dance critics.

An evening of nine short pieces, one on film, has some fine moments, but taken as a whole is curiously uninspiring. Far be it from me to suggest why – I’m no dance critic – but one thing I did find interesting was that the programme was a tale of two dancers – Acosta and his fellow Royal Ballet dancer Zenaida Yanowsky. It took a while for this to become apparent. There seemed a lot of people on stage, but after a while you begin to wonder why they’re just strolling about, rather than dancing. And don’t some of them look, just a little, not quite the right shape for dancers?

Come the last piece, O Magnum Mysterium, all becomes clear, for the dance troupe that isn’t pulls off a coup de theatre by turning out to be the Pegasus Choir all along, advancing slowly upstage singing Morten Lauridsen’s eponymous piece. It is the only live music in the evening, and falls on the ears like water on a parched throat.


Looking for the interesting thing can be a challenge in many performances, and hands up, I did struggle a bit at Glyndebourne’s new production of Handel’s Rinaldo (reviewed on Tuesday), despite some fabulous singing. But the interesting thing there was the experience of going to a production into its run, rather than on the first night. There is no doubt that they are two very different experiences. Why should this be so? Is it that the performers are more wound up for the first performance, that the audience has come along with higher expectations, that the auditorium is liberally scattered with hard-nosed London critics?

It would probably take a sociologist to provide any kind of answer, but every critic should probably be required to do the test from time to time. It ought to be a humbling experience to sit, inwardly groaning, as every cliché in the book is wrapped in a warm glow of audience approval. But on the whole I have to say it isn’t.

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