George Balanchine, who was one of the early promoters of contemporary ballet, described his work as a melange of different influences weaved into a form which itself is a mesh of classical ballet and modern dance.
“God creates. I do not create. I assemble and I steal from everywhere to do it – from what I see, from what the dancers can do, from what others do…”
Hail Britannia is four new pieces of contemporary ballet reflecting many such diverse influences. Performed by Murley Dance, each piece shows different aspects of British culture and is set among three acts. It is performed by 14 professional dancers who have a wide range of experience (such as the English National Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Bucharest National Opera Ballet and Royal New Zealand Ballet).
Choreographed by Anaish Parmar, the first act is devoted to a piece called Shaadi which is the Hindi word for marriage. Attired in colourful garb, the dancers were exuberant in their joy. The dances depicted a traditional Indian marriage and its related customs such as the Mehndi (henna) party for the bride.
The music was also a mix of Hindi and English songs. Of course, A Brimful of Asha was featured.
The second act has two set pieces, one set in British history and the other in modern times. Wayward Kinship (choreographed by Richard Chappell) tells the story of the troubled relationship between Henry II and Thomas Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, which eventually ends in the murder of Becket by Henry II’s knights.
Choreographed by David Murley, Frisky Claptrap is set to a background of a train station and scenes of the countryside rolling in the background. The dancers are 3 backpackers who travel around England looking for oddly-named towns (e.g., Happy Bottom, Bushy Gap, Fannyfield etc.). The humour is along the traditional lines of Benny Hill comedy.
The third act, called Highgrove Suite, was also choreographed by David Murley. Highgrove Suite was commissioned by HRH The Prince of Wales to celebrate the gardens at his country home, Highgrove House, from renowned composer Patrick Hawes in 2009. Due to its association with the Prince Charles who is famously fond of tradition, you knew it was going to be more classical in feel and look – no Kings and Archbishops in short shorts for him. My daughter would have loved the ballerinas in big, poufy tutus.
The music was absolutely beautiful (Prince Charles got his money’s worth). The dance tells the story of a woman’s growth through innocence, maturity and love. In the end, our heroine runs off with a gladiator (??) having escaped her widowed mother’s stifling grief. I have no idea what the symbolism of the gladiator was supposed to have been. If you tie it into the Benny Hill aspects of the previous act, perhaps he artfully wielded his sword.
Contemporary ballet is released from the strictures of classical ballet in that it may not tell a story. The works in Hail Britannia are loosely related in depicting British history and culture. My favourite was Shaadi which I thought was a very clever merging of Indian culture and music with a Western dance form. You can catch Hail Britannia at its last performance this season on October 25th in Cheltenham.