The company has brought together three time-honoured ballets by Frederick Ashton under the general heading of “Darkness and Light” and quite frankly the evening was a triumph blending Ashton’s genius with some splendid company dancing.
Dante Sonata is a stunning piece reflecting the anguish of Britain in wartime. With an inspired set and costumes by the hugely talented Sophie Fedorovitch, it first appeared in 1940, a time of total destruction with Britain suffering from bombing raids, rationing, loss of life on sea and land and a general feeling of total despair.
To catch at all these uncertainties in a ballet was totally remarkable, but Ashton managed it well and the nation took Dante Sonata, with its lovely score by Franz liszt, to its heart. To see it today is to wonder if it stands up well in a world that has moved on. But have we really changed? Wars are still with us as much as they ever were.
But in this ballet, good and evil collide in a way that still catches you by the throat. The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness are in violent conflict. Evil is personified by naked men with snakes curled round their bodies and Good in filmy white fencing shirts with the women in simple white shifts. The simplicity, the crucifixion of goodness and hope (Iain Mackay back after an illness and in great form) and the general response to this passionate, dramatic piece from a committed company was totally moving.
In contrast Les Rendezvous, created in 1933 to a haunting score by Daniel Auber, arranged by Constant Lambert, was as sweetly elegant as a stroll in the park on a summer afternoon.
Ashton always said it was about nothing, yet there is a touching pathos here if you care to look beneath the surface. Ashton seems to be saying that youth cannot last and everything goes in the end. Here the sun rises and gives way eventually to the moon. The girls in polka dot dresses, meet the boys in striped blazers ribboned straw boaters. The couples flirt or depart and there is some fine dancing with Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao leading the field in style.
What can you say about the third piece Facade? William Walton composed the jaunty music, Ashton worked out some delightful set pieces which reflected in April 1931 the folk, social and theatrical dances of the period. It’s funny, witty and beautifully set and costumed with BRB dancers enjoying themselves as Alpine yodelling mashers, tango dancers and Highland flingers. But it’s the tango that takes the biscuit, here done nicely by Rory Mackay as the Dago and Celine Gittens as a rather worldly debutante.