Jul 162013

Debra Craine and Luke JenningsWhile the opin­ions expressed by theatre crit­ics are always dif­fer­ent, the five or six reviews that I read on major pro­duc­tions of plays, operas and bal­lets nev­er­the­less head in the same gen­eral dir­ec­tion. How delight­ful it was, there­fore, to read in The Sunday Times and in The Observer on the Moscow Stan­islavsky Ballet’s Cop­pélia!

Neither is enam­oured of ’s ver­sion:

…his chic but empty-headed 1975 French rewrite is so unin­volving… Petit’s Cop­pélia gives short shrift to plot and even shorter shrift to characterisation.

says Craine. And Jennings:

It’s all inten­ded to be very charm­ing and effer­ves­cent, but Petit’s cho­reo­graphy lacks élan and soon becomes tire­somely repetitive.

But on the inter­pret­ers they beg to dif­fer. Craine on the Stanislavsky’s Swan­hilda wrote,

Kristina Shapran was strange cast­ing as the first-night Swanilda. Her tech­nique was decidedly wobbly, with rub­bery legs and a weird tend­ency to approach each step as if it she hadn’t quite mastered it. And her act­ing was so bland that it seemed like an afterthought.

Whereas Jen­nings was taken by her potential,

Slender, dark-haired Shapran, if some­times lack­ing in tech­nical fin­esse, is a very beguil­ing and pretty heroine, but the brittle cho­reo­graphy does her few favours. Nor does Polunin, whose act­ing is per­func­tory at best, and who part­ners her with little care and no ten­der­ness. But there’s a determ­ined set to Shapran’s chin, and we will cer­tainly be see­ing more of her.

And here start his doubts about Polunin — “Let’s face it, most of the first-night audi­ence was drawn by the chance to see Polunin” says Craine — and Jen­nings continues,

Of Polunin, who knows? Applause greets his solos, which con­tain their share of pyro­tech­nics. Fly­ing jetés, spring-heeled tours en l’air, effortless-seeming double assemblés and sauts de basque. But much of it is, by his own stand­ards, rough around the edges. Pre­par­a­tions are approx­im­ate, pirou­ettes snatched and off-centre, land­ings not quite even. The poetry and beau­ti­ful pre­ci­sion of which he is cap­able are not in evid­ence here.

“It’s just to show off,” Polunin has said of bal­lets like Cop­pélia. “You play stu­pid and play­ful.” And that’s exactly what this looks like – a throwaway per­form­ance… But given his glor­i­ous tal­ent – he is, without ques­tion, the most nat­ur­ally gif­ted male bal­let dan­cer of his gen­er­a­tion – his jaded atti­tude and cyn­ical atti­tu­din­ising are dispiriting.

And Craine?

Franz is a jolly rogue, a young man who thinks noth­ing of mak­ing goo-goo eyes at another woman (well, he doesn’t know that Cop­pélia is really a life­less doll) while being engaged to Swanilda. Polunin made him irres­ist­ible, both in his beau­ti­fully formed dan­cing — thrill­ing jumps, silken pirou­ettes, heav­enly pos­i­tions — and the mes­mer­ising appeal of his com­edy, so cocky and assured..

So here’s the real moment to com­pare and con­trast. This is not about so-and-so being ‘enchant­ing’ or what’s-her-name being ‘believ­able’, this is about technique:

…his beau­ti­fully formed dan­cing — thrill­ing jumps, silken pirou­ettes, heav­enly pos­i­tions. — Debra Craine

…rough around the edges. Pre­par­a­tions are approx­im­ate, pirou­ettes snatched and off-centre, land­ings not quite even. — Luke Jennings

The strange thing is that both crit­ics have had bal­let train­ing and know about tech­nique, so how to explain this? Craine asphyxi­ated by the test­er­one waft­ing off the stage? Jen­nings try­ing to knock the arrog­ance out of the 23-year-old who dared say “being a bal­let dan­cer isn’t cool”? No, they are both much too seasoned and pro­fes­sional for that. But I’d damn like to see a video.

The Oxford Dic­tion­ary of Dance by Debra Craine and The Guardian’s Judith Mack­rell
The Faber Pocket Guide to Bal­let by Luke Jen­nings and ex-principal of the Deborah Bull

  2 Responses to “Compare and contrast: The Sunday Times vs The Observer”

  1. You take these review­ers too seriously.

    • I take review­ers ser­i­ously, oth­er­wise I wouldn’t waste my time read­ing what they write. Though over time you do form an opin­ion of who is ‘bet­ter’, or at least thinks along the same lines as you do. For me, Luke Jen­nings is one of the best; his tech­nical insights are usu­ally spot-on, and when I see a bal­let I am usu­ally in agree­ment with his opin­ions. I couldn’t get to see Cop­pelia so I appre­ci­ated read­ing the crits.

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