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ClassicsOnline Home » 20TH CENTURY ENGLISH BALLETS
Performances are splendid, and, joy of joys, Naxos (at super-budget price!) supplies a track-by-track description of what's happening on stage. Incredibly, no other ballet disc reviewed here does that.
20th Century English BaIlets
Cinderella (Philip Feeney)
The Brontes (Dominic Muldowney)
A Christmas Carol (Carl Davis)
All the music on this disc is taken from
full-length ballet scores commissioned by Northern Ballet Theatre. The Company
was created in 1969 by Laverne Meyer with the intention of providing quality
performances of classical ballet not only around its home base of Manchester, but also
The Company now has its administrative headquarters in Halifax, West
In 1987 the noted dancer and actor
Christopher Gable was appointed Artistic Director of Northern Ballet Theatre,
following his appearance with the Company as the painter, L.S. Lowry, in A
Simple Man (choreography by Gillian Lynne, music by Carl Davis). He
developed a new artistic policy for the Company, concentrating on the
presentation of full-length narrative dance dramas, in which the impact of the
story told is every bit as important as the quality of the dancing.
The relatively modest size of the Company,
(34 dancers, 24 players in the orchestra), has been challenging for NBT in its
presentation of the traditional repertoire. Nevertheless, with an imaginative
and innovative approach to the great classics the Company has enjoyed enormous
success with productions of Romeo & Juliet and Swan Lake. Its more
particular claim to attention, however, is with the creation of wholly new
This innovative policy has resulted in
the regular commissioning of new ballet scores, three of which are represented
here. As with most ballet scores, there are passages in. each of .these works
where the interest is primarily dramatic - the items on this recording have
been chosen with the dual purpose of providing a memento for those listeners
who have seen the ballets, and a musically satisfying experience to those who
For his production of Cinderella, Christopher
Gable undertook extensive research into the different versions of the story. He
opted to take as his model the version told by the Brothers Grimm in 1815
rather than the more familiar story published by the 17th Century French
author, Charles Perrault, which was translated into English in 1729 as Cinderella,
or the Little Glass Slipper. In Perrault one finds the Fairy
Godmother with a pumpkin which turns into the coach to take Cinderella to the
bal1, the glass slipper and the instruction to be home by midnight. The
Brothers Grimm story is harsher, more cruel and moralistic. Cinderella's 'ugly'
sisters are described in Grimm as having "beautiful lily - white faces but
ugly black hearts" .Cinderella' s Stepmother not only treats the heroine
with great cruelty , but also takes a kitchen knife to her own daughter' s toes
when it becomes apparent that her feet are too big to fit in the slipper found
by the Prince. The Stepmother and her daughters are blinded by ravens for their
malice and deceitfulness, and throughout the story Cinderel1a is helped to bear
her torments by the support of her dead Mother from the other world.
 Harvest Dance. The peasants, led by
Cindere1la's Brother celebrate a fine apple crop.
 The Woodcutter's
Dance. Some weeks have passed; Cinderella's Brother has fallen to his death in
an accident, and her Mother has died also. Grieving the loss of her loved ones
she is cheered by some harmless fun with her friends.
 Pas de Trois.
Cindere1la is excluded from the festivities that mark the Prince's coming of
age. She is consoled by the spirits of her lost relatives.
 Birds. Forced to
pick up every lentil scattered into the ashes by her malicious Stepmother,
Cinderella is visited by a flock of woodland birds who lovingly assist her.
 The Red Bal1. After a stately
chaconne, the Prince introduces himself.
Dances. The Stepmother and her daughters seize every opportunity to dominate
the proceedings at the Palace and to ingratiate themselves with the Prince.
Prince and the Drunken Father. After a cock-fight, at which the Prince's bird
is victorious, Cinderella's Father, who has been neglected by, the rest of his
family, drunkenly congratulates the Prince on his success. The breach of
etiquette leads to a violent incident.
 Cinderella prepares
for the Ball. Cinderella's Mother appears with jewelled slippers and a
shimmering dress for her daughter to wear at the ball. A flock of white doves
helps her to dress.
 Pas de Deux
& Finale. The Prince rediscovers Cinderella, frightened and alone in the
ashes of the great fireplace. He recognises his love for her in spite of her
humble surroundings and ragged clothes. Gently he wins her trust and her love.
The ballet ends as the two lovers celebrate their marriage amidst fluttering
apple blossom and surrounded by their friends.
Feeney's score for Cinderella draws on a wide variety of styles and
moods, appropriately austere and baroque for the Red Ball, humorous and bucolic
for the Woodcutters, and above an radiant and tender at the emotional climaxes
of the work. The small orchestra is used virtuosical1y, with many solo
passages. Particular use is made of chromatic timpani to underpin the bass
line, and there is an extensive keyboard part.
(The ballet was
choreographed by Gillian Lynne)
Unusually for a ballet, The Brontes is
based on historical fact. Originally from Ireland, Rev.
Patrick Bronte (1777 - 1861) was a prize-winning classics scholar at Cambridge. He spent
the last 41 years of his life as perpetual Curate of Haworth, a vi11age close
to Halifax and therefore of special interest to many of Northern Ballet
Theatre's regu1acr audience. He married a Cornish lady, Maria Branwell, by whom
he had six children, Maria, E1izabeth, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily and Anne. He
outlived them all, and the ballet shows the life of his family through his
eyes, as in his old age he reflects on the past.
 The Toy Soldiers
Fantasy. Patrick Bronte's wife became fatally ill almost as soon as the family
arrived in Haworth. As she lay
dying upstairs in the Parsonage, the children occupied themselves with
elaborate games they invented around their toy soldiers and the characters from
their story books. Their fertile imaginations created worlds where soldiers,
politicians, evil fairies and characters from the Arabian Nights all existed happily
 The Moors. The wild
and rolling moorlands were a constant source of inspiration to the Brontes,
particularly to Emily, who frequently walked them for hours in all weathers.
 Branwell and Mrs
Robinson. Anne Bronte became Governess to the daughters of the Robinson family
and, in due course, Branwell joined her to act as tutor to their son. Mr
Robinson was an invalid, and his wife and Branwell became emotionally
entangled. The third movement of the suite is an unashamedly erotic Pas de Deux.
 Wuthering Heights. Emily wrote
Wuthering Heights while
supervising the domestic arrangements at the Parsonage and looking after her
Father. Her note book was beside her in the kitchen and we see Cathy and Heathcliff
being created in her imagination. They dance an impassioned duet.
 Charlotte in Brussels. In order to
further her education, Charlotte went to finishing
school in Brussels where she
fell deeply and hopelessly in love with her teacher, Monsieur Heger. His wife,
not unaware of his fascination for younger women, put an end to the relationship.
 Pas de Deux
(Charlotte and Mr Nicholls). In 1854 Charlotte married Reverend Arthur
Bell Nicholls, who had been Assistant Curate to Patrick Bronte for some nine
years. She had little expectation of happiness but in the twelve months between
their marriage and her death their affection blossomed. In their pas de deux
the mood is one of supreme contentment, tinged with sadness as Charlotte realises she
wi1I not live to bear the child she is expecting.
 Epilogue. Patrick,
old and blind, remembers with pride his superbly gifted family.
Dominic Muldowney's use of the orchestra
in The Brontes is strikingly indiVidual, with particular prominence
being given to the wind instruments and the muted trumpet. The clavinova adds
its unique quality to the tutti passages, and the percussion, from which
the timpani are notably excluded, includes such exotica as bongos, tom-toms, cabassa
and claves for rhythmic definition.
A Christmas Carol
A Christmas Carol is a
straightforward telling of Charles Dickens' celebrated story through the medium
of dance. Scrooge, an avaricious money-dealer, is haunted by his deceased
business partner, Jacob Marley, who warns him of the terrible consequences of
his selfish life. The Ghost of Christmas Past recalls for him how his obsession
with money lost him his first love, Belle. The Ghost of Christmas Present shows
him his poorly-paid but jovial assistant, Bob Cratchit, celebrating Christmas
frugally but happily. Unable to join them, Scrooge is tormented by the Ghost of
Christmas Yet to Come, who shows him the Cratchit family grieving over the
death of their son. Finally the Angel of Death shows Scrooge his own miserable
funeral. A waking from this nightmare on Christmas Morning, Scrooge realises
that he still has the opportunity to make good the past, and he runs into the
street to instigate a huge Christmas banquet for the entire neighbourhood, at
which the Cratchits are guests of honour.
and Niece. Scrooge's nephew and niece visit their Uncle in his counting house
and attempt to bring some Christmas cheer into his life.
 Keeping Warm. Bob Cratchit,
the clerk, struggles to keep warm in the icy counting house and dreams of
 Patapan and Cornhill
slide. Some poor Londoners are keeping themselves warm round a workman's
brazier. Bob Cratchit, on his way home, leads them in some fun on a slide in Cornhill.
 Belle and Young
Scrooge. The young Scrooge is celebrating Christmas with his Fiancee, Belle,
but she ends their engagement when she realises that his desire for wealth is
greater than his love for her.
 Phantoms. The Ghost
of Jacob Marley shows Scrooge the phantoms of those tormented souls who have misused
their time on earth.
Dance. Scrooge realises that there is still time to change his life and
frantically scrambles into his clothes on Christmas morning.
Deck the Hall. Scrooge leads the Londoners in an exuberant celebration of the
good will of Christmas time.
The suite from the ballet reflects Carl
Davis's use of traditional carols, his affectionate evoking of the Victorian
era in which the ballet is firmly set, and his use of eerie chromaticism for
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20TH CENTURY ENGLISH BALLETS