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Pointe shoes and a few pirouettes do not a classical ballet make, and Will Tuckett’s The Canterville Ghost, created for English National Ballet and performed during a brief sojourn at Sadler’s Wells, is most certainly no ballet. It would pass the time during a wet weekday afternoon at the seaside, but it is not worthy of a classical dance ensemble.
The ENB may no longer be the company of Markova, Dolin, Grey and Schaufuss, but it should maintain some pride and not perform works that, at best, could be described as “dance theatre”. The quiet hum during The Canterville Ghost was presumably the sound of Oscar Wilde spinning in his grave, for his witty novella has been altered and “improved” by Tuckett and his team. They offer a Proserpine-style abduction of the heroine (a game Elena Glurdjidze) by the spectre (a bland but forever gesticulating Ivan Dinev) in the second act.
In the programme, Tuckett mentions Ashton’s La fille mal gardée as an inspiration, but nothing prepared me for Alice being carted off by Oberon and saved by Alain, with a soupçon of Enigma Variations here and a pinch of Wedding Bouquet there. Sir Fred did it all so much better. Tuckett’s humour is far too laboured, relying on mugging and grotesque movement – the characters of the Otis twins, bravely performed by Simone Clarke and Pedro Lapetra, should have been smothered at birth. Martin Ward’s music and Sue Blane’s costumes do not help; the former bland and unvaried, the latter garish and unflattering.
However, I suspect the real problem is that, to fulfil his brief of a full- length ballet, Tuckett has spun out what could have been a decent half-hour piece. Everything outstays its welcome. If the ENB has to put on this type of work to survive, then things are in a pretty parlous state – it needs ballet that will challenge and improve its classical technique, not end-of-pier variety turns on pointe.
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