John Ross Dance, Triple Bill

Posted: September 20th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on John Ross Dance, Triple Bill

John Ross Dance, NACA showcase Triple Bill, Hackney Empire, September 17


John Ross Dance

John Ross Dance

It was at a Cloud Dance Sunday at the Giant Olive Theatre that I first saw John Ross in his Man Down, then Wolfpack later at a Cloud Dance Festival. Thanks to Matthew Bourne and his friends who provided the initial funds to start the New Adventures Choreographer Award, Ross has stepped up to another level by winning the 2014 NACA Showcase award. As a result his company, John Ross Dance, is presenting a triple bill at the grand Hackney Empire in a full stage production and a printed program to rival those at the Royal Opera House or Sadler’s Wells.

Man Down is a visceral solo about a commissioned officer killed in Afghanistan, while Wolfpack is a slice of contemporary youth culture. Both works make intelligent use of theatre and dance that have pathos, drama and in the case of Wolfpack, a dark sense of humour. Neither, however, prepare me for the first work on the NACA showcase, Eclipse, that Lee Smikle, artistic director of Shoreditch Youth Dance Company, commissioned Ross to create on his dancers earlier this year (Smikle is also Ross’s producer and a former dancer in Matthew Bourne’s various companies, so this is a close family affair).

Eclipse is pure dance with an inventiveness, excitement and musicality that is matched by the beauty and conviction of the Shoreditch dancers (Joey Barton, Kathy Collings, Hester Gill, Eimi Leggett, Joe Martin, Will Thompson, Elena Zube Perez and guest artist Jordan Ajadi) who take ownership of each detail of the dance. All the elements of the production come together seamlessly: the music is a blend of tracks by Greg Haines, If These Trees Could Talk and Ezio Bosso, while the costumes by Lez Brotherston (with original skirt design by Sara Rigden) serve the swirling rhythms of the dance to perfection. The work is based on the ancient Chinese notion that an eclipse is caused by a creature eating the sun and yes, there is a deep orange orb and a smaller black eclipse (both made by Amber Scarlett) that the dancers glide across each other to illustrate the tale. There are global echoes in an opening circle of dancers and a final tableau of arms like fiery tentacles appearing from behind the sun but in between Ross deploys a thrilling use of pattern, space and form in the choreography that to someone who has seen only Man Down and Wolfpack appears to arise out of nowhere, fully formed. Stunning.

How do you follow that? At this point it is perhaps just as well that Matthew Bourne makes an appearance in front of the curtain to introduce the NACA awards, like a palate cleanser in between courses. He ends by introducing Wolfpack, reworked for a new cast (Fionn Cox Davies, Stephen Moynihan, Erik Nyberg and Lewis Wilkins) that depicts four lads who start off a little the worse for wear and work backwards through the rambunctious, phantasmagoric events that got them there. Wolfpack started life as a piece called Occupied for six male dancers in a male bathroom. Ross has evidently kept one of the flushing toilets (offstage) but otherwise leaves the location of the action to our imagination. You get the picture quite quickly, but it is Ross’s wealth of imagery (complemented by Emma Robinson’s surreal masks) and the uncomfortable juxtaposition of camaraderie and self-destruction in his characterization that keeps the performance constantly on the edge. The music, an eclectic blend of tracks by Modeselektor, Moderat, Goran Bregovic, Brian Eno and Fennezs, weaves through the work, sometimes in front of the action and sometimes behind, so Ross keeps our attention moving in subtle and some not so subtle ways, juggling all the elements at his disposal.

Taken together, Eclipse and Wolfpack suggest Ross has the ability to create a full-scale West-End production, and that is almost what he provides with the second world premiere of the evening, Little Sheep. Inspired by the London riots of 2011, it is an outpouring of anger and frustration painted in large brush strokes that cover political incompetence and the impunity of social revolt. Lez Brotherston has moved the street on to the stage with crowd control barriers ready to be deployed where needed. Smoke hangs ominously over the set as does a large painted effigy of David Cameron with a blacked-out slogan that is revealed bit by ironic bit throughout the action (but only fully at the end). Given the cast is just seven strong (the four from Wolfpack plus Ana Mrdjanov, Maria Fonseca and Pauline Raineri) there is no possibility of massing police against rioters, but Ross appears to contradict the combined forces of Lucy Hansom’s ominous lighting, the foreboding set and the brooding complexity of the original score (by After They Left) with an uncharacteristic touch of caricature, first for the police (in full riot gear) and then the rioters. Strength in imagery returns with Maria Fonseca being dressed for action and with Fionn Cox-Davies reeling from a dose of tear gas, but it is only when Stephen Moynihan takes up the megaphone with an impassioned call to arms through to the final capitulaton of ideals that Ross’s conviction comes through. Little Sheep is his first large-scale creation but while the evidence of his past work indicates he is more than capable of handling the subject there are elements here that diminish its full expression and undermine his true talent.

Matthew Bourne: Play Without Words

Posted: August 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Matthew Bourne: Play Without Words

Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words, Sadler’s Wells July 31

 Anabel Kutay and Richard Winsor in Play Without Words (photo: Alastair Muir)

Anabel Kutay and Richard Winsor in Play Without Words (photo: Alastair Muir)

Being an avid film buff, Bourne took his inspiration for Play Without Words from a 1963 Joseph Losey film, The Servant (based on Robin Maugham’s novel of the same name), starring Dirk Bogarde as the manservant, Barrett; a young James Fox as the wealthy Peter; Wendy Craig as his fiancée, Susan; and Sarah Miles as the maid, Vera. It is a tightly structured drama with a screenplay by Harold Pinter that takes place almost entirely within Peter’s Chelsea house that is transformed in the course of the action from a damp shell into a comfortable home as Peter is transformed from its comfortable master into a decadent shell. It is a study of class barriers raped, values turned upside down and trust betrayed.

Bourne enters this territory like Barrett in the film: he knows what he wants, slowly assimilates the material and moulds it in his own image. For a start he changes the names: Barrett becomes Prentice, Peter becomes Anthony, Susan becomes Glenda and Vera becomes Sheila, but since this is a play without words, the names are not as important as the costumes (by Lez Brotherston) for identification purposes. There is however one interesting addition to the cast, the man called Speight (Jonathan Ollivier). He is listed in the program as ‘an old friend’, though whose friend is not clear. He doesn’t have a corresponding role in the film, but his function in Play Without Words appears to provide the emotional ballast (strong and assured, controlling, self-confident and charismatic) that Bourne does not invest in either Anthony or Prentice. As such Speight appears to be the one fleshed-out­ — if amoral — character in the play.

Bourne’s characters tend to be rather one-dimensional, bordering on caricature. That is part of his style. Losey’s Peter is a well-to-do, emotionally insecure apprentice of the old-boy network. Bourne’s Anthony by comparison is an emasculated character in nerdy glasses for whom we have no sense of past or present. The other characters, apart from Speight, are similarly insubstantial. Thus Bourne’s device of creating the four principal characters in triplicate multiplies but does not necessarily clarify or deepen them. Bourne had already tried this idea effectively with two groups of characters in the Brief Encounter section of Town & Country, where the only variation was in the conclusion, but with four characters multiplied by three facets, in constant but irregular orbit like thought bubbles in a comic strip, the problem is not only clarity but where to look. Nevertheless, it makes Play Without Words, choreographically, the most interesting work of Bourne’s I have seen. The first act, especially, has an integrity of its own. With the second act the thread begins to unravel and move off in other directions before it arrives at its conclusion.

Brotherston’s set looks like an illustrated London pop-up book that has not quite unfolded: squinty street perspectives with sixties’ iconic landmarks, including the Post-Office Tower and Centrepoint (plus Big Ben for good measure) rising above the horizon, three telephone boxes standing at rakish angles, a bus coming up the hill towards us, and two billboards, one for beer, the other for cigarettes. The landscape is more North London than Chelsea, but a street sign in the foreground reads Beaufort Street: at the heart of London’s swinging sixties. There are several stage levels accessed by curving staircases linked to Brotherston’s centerpiece, a revolving, see-through entrance unit that serves, among other things, as the front door to Anthony’s newly-acquired home. In front of this entrance, on the inside of the house, is a leather armchair partially covered in a white dust sheet. To the side of the stage, outside the house, is a café with more chairs and tables under covers. This functional setting, admirably lit by Paule Constable, thus seamlessly links inside, outside, upstairs, downstairs, down the road, and in the pub, keeping the various locations effectively in one place, as if we are watching a film being made on a Shepperton studio set. In terms of the play, the set effectively removes Pinter’s claustrophobic sense of space and allows Bourne to develop his own, lighter treatment of the story. The music is a jazz score by Terry Davies played with smoky intensity by Michael Haslam, Sarah Homer, Mark White, Steve Rossell and Justin Woodward.

In the dark as the show begins, we hear sounds of city life, street activity, and a lone trumpeter poses against the top railing of the staircase playing to the night sky, waking up the neighbourhood (it’s really Mark White in the orchestra pit). Downstairs a man lies across the arms of his armchair and two other men snap their fingers to the jazz. There are others too, though nobody is as yet defined. Someone arrives at the door; if you know the story, you might think it’s the new manservant, but it’s only the estate agent handing over the keys to Anthony who has by now identified himself as the new homeowner (Adam Maskell, Christopher Trenfield or Richard Winsor). There is activity, too, across the road at the café: the patterns of two men flirting with two girls at the tables.

A second Anthony has just had a shower and rushes into the living room girded in his towel. Glenda, his fiancée, arrives in tripartite glamour (Madaleine Brennan, Saranna Curtin and Anjali Mehra). The telephone rings. One Glenda plays with Anthony as he answers. What the other two were doing I didn’t notice. A third Anthony materializes, and all three Anthonys and their respective Glendas leave by the stairs and descend seamlessly into a sixties’ happening just around the corner. Speight, whom we recognize as the trumpet player, mocks and humiliates Anthony on the dance floor in front of his fiancée(s). Anthony is browned off but is incapable of responding. In rare unity of spirit, all three Anthonys put the coats on all three Glendas and return home to light each other’s cigarettes and dance three duets in which all Glendas are standing and two of the three Anthonys are engaged in floor play. After some elementary skirt groping and a goodnight kiss, the Glendas adjust their barely ruffled skirts, put on their shoes and earrings, and leave.

Anthony snoozes on the armchair and is woken by three men looking distinctly shady. It is the new manservant, Prentice, divided into three (Daniel Collins, Alastair Postlethwaite and Neil Westmoreland). Bourne makes fun of his own convention by making Anthony think he is hallucinating. Anthony is joined by his two alter egos and the three masters show the three prospective menservants around the house. To the striking of cymbals and a handshake, Prentice is hired.

Bourne now adds to the already complex patterns by introducing the new maid, Sheila (played in duplicate by Anabel Kutay and Hannah Vassallo), who is actually the sidekick and lover of Prentice. The music picks up a few beats with her arrival, as she is a live wire. Speight seems to pick up too and assaults the stairs with the agility of an acrobat attacking an obstacle course, slides down the bannister, grabs his trumpet and kicks the furniture on his way out.

Anthony enters in his underwear to a Davies/Bach air. The juxtaposition makes it sound and look like an advertisement (Y-fronts and classical music were a seminal combination in Bourne’s early Spitfire). Bourne makes a symmetrical vignette of two tailors dressing two of the Anthonys in bespoke suits, one being dressed on the same musical rhythm as the other is being undressed. This is what Bourne does so well: abstracting action into its component parts and putting them back together in comic combination. A similar vignette in which Prentice hands the newspaper to Anthony in his armchair and puts on his slippers becomes a slick acrobatic routine, impeccably carried out.

Meanwhile, the third Anthony is having a shower and arrives in his towel as Sheila makes an entrance. In the Losey film, there is sexual tension in the scene where Sarah Miles brings the bare-chested James Fox his breakfast in bed. Bourne defuses the sexual tension by having Anthony cover his nipples. Everyone laughs. This is also trademark Bourne: the urge to giggle when the sexual temperature rises, as if the spirit of Kenneth Williams is on hand to send up the moment. We see it again in the second act seduction of Anthony by Sheila on the dining-room table. In Losey’s film it is an erotically charged moment; in Bourne’s version, Sheila’s foot inches along the table toward Anthony’s hand like a famished caterpillar.

One of the maids sits on the trolley and is wheeled off; another is sorting the washing as Glenda marches in imperiously. She is refurbishing the new home but her haughty manner has evidently raised the hackles of both manservant and maid. Whatever Glenda brings into the house, Prentice or Sheila moves or removes behind her back. Sheila puts on a record: ironically, the theme music to Housewives’ Choice by Eric Coates. Prentice sets about cleaning the house as Sheila wraps streamers around the bannisters in preparation for the forthcoming house-warming party. Prentice dances a Hollywood number over the furniture until Glenda reappears and abruptly changes the music. She is in a foul, condescending mood. She drops her coat impetuously on the floor, pointedly places a vase of fresh flowers on a table and complains about the dust. Anthony appears in his new suit, and tries to calm Glenda’s nerves. The guests arrive, with drinks served all round. Anthony reappears in a dinner jacket, out of place amongst the ultra-trendy guests; everyone ignores him. Speight arrives and slaps everyone heartily on the back and starts dancing with the girls. Anthony is about to make a speech but nobody wants to hear him. He has a funny dance with a woman who seems to have a fixation on him, and then makes a fool of himself by launching into a seriously uninhibited sixties’ number. Someone organizes a game of charades and then blind man’s buff in which Anthony, of course, is blindfolded. It is the one poignant moment of the evening as he follows the rules of the game that his guests play at his expense. While Anthony feels his way around the room all the guests leave quietly by the stairs, Speight seduces Glenda, and only Sheila is left on duty, whom Anthony finally finds and gropes. Glenda is outraged and leaves the house to the sound of a cat’s hiss and followed by the trajectory of her vase of flowers. The audience shuffles out for a drink.

On our return, the television is on. It is an episode of the Avengers. There have been eleven murders in six months…Prentice descends the stairs with a drink in his hand, smoking, looking at photos with the relaxed air of the new master of the house. He switches the channel to the horse racing. Glenda rings the doorbell, but Prentice doesn’t move. She rings again and he goes angrily to the door and sends Glenda packing. The location changes to a bar in The Salisbury. Bourne creates a digression here, using Losey’s scene in which Peter considers picking up a pretty girl in a pub as an opportunity to comment on the sixties’ gay scene, with reference to Basil Dearden’s 1961 film, Victim, in which Bogarde also stars.

Back at home, Sheila in an oversized tennis sweater and Anthony in pajamas are eyeing each other around the dining room table. We see Glenda call from the phone box outside, but Anthony doesn’t pick up. A thunderstorm breaks as Glenda leaves the phone box and bumps into Speight. Three Speights seduce three Glendas while the two Sheilas – one now lying on the dining room table and the other on the stairs – prepare to seduce Anthony, who pours a glass of water and leaves the tap dripping (as in the film). The drip becomes a musical motif accompanying the smooth saxophone line throughout the seduction. Anthony is clearly in two minds, but Sheila is not. This is the moment her foot reaches out to his hand on the table, which makes everyone laugh. He places his hand on her leg; her arm is like a serpent reaching for his face. Anthony submits, while the other Sheila descends the stairs and another Anthony appears. As the first couple reach climax, the second couple starts their lovemaking, watched by the first Anthony. The second Anthony throws his glasses away but then can’t see his Sheila very well and breaks off to search for them on the floor (laughter). At the moment of climax the first Sheila returns.

It all gets a little confusing here. Everyone is making love in a raucous, rhythmic turmoil punctuated by climactic trumpet blasts, and then silence. A trumpet solo, like a reveille, follows the silence and Speight is the first to wake up; he has been sleeping with Glenda on a mattress on the floor. He gets up, gets dressed and leaves. Glenda wakes up. Two Anthonys run in chasing after the two Sheilas. Prentice appears and sees with some satisfaction what he has unleashed. Anthony, in shock, thinks he is still in control and orders Prentice to do something, but the latter doesn’t react. Instead he lies down on the recently vacated mattress and reads. Anthony is incensed but ill equipped to reestablish his authority. Class revolution breaks out on the stairs to an appropriately swashbuckling music. Bourne turns this into a comic rout until a truce is declared. The three Prentices are now in control above stairs and, as the entrance/stair unit revolves, we see the three Anthonys cringing below. The doorbell rings. It is Glenda. She puts her arm round Anthony but he breaks away when he sees Prentice together with Sheila and then sees Speight (where did he come from?) kissing Glenda. Prentice is now sitting in the master’s seat. The Sheilas arrive with bags. Everyone is running, but are they coming or going? The trumpeter returns to his initial spot and blasts a tune to the sky while Anthony remains inert on the soiled mattress.

By Bourne’s own admission, Play Without Words is one of his ‘most unique and unusual pieces’. It is also unusual in that it was commissioned by Trevor Nunn at the National Theatre for a season that encouraged experiment: Bourne allowed himself to take risks, to try something new. ‘Unlike any other dance company in this country’, he states rather disingenuously in the program, ‘everything else I’ve done has had to make its money back.’ Is there perhaps a part of Bourne ‒ one of his tripartite souls ‒ that admires his accomplishment in Play Without Words and senses his commercial success might have moved him further away from what he had shown he was capable of doing? And what might that individuated soul be thinking on the opening night of Bourne’s new Sleeping Beauty?

Matthew Bourne: Early Adventures

Posted: June 14th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Matthew Bourne: Early Adventures

Celebrating 25 Years: Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures at Sadler’s Wells, May 21

Matthew Bourne

Matthew Bourne’s Early Adventures (photo: Chris Nash)

Having seen Dorian Gray a couple of years ago, I was not, I admit, much inclined to see another work by Matthew Bourne. I am not that drawn to Oscar Wilde’s rather dark and overwrought gothic tale either, but there is in it a psychology that I felt Bourne had treated superficially for his own production purposes – Edinburgh Festival hype notwithstanding. The message I got soon afterwards from the director of Adventures in Motion Pictures, Robert Noble, was that critics who didn’t like Dorian Grey clearly didn’t get it. I was obviously in that bracket (though I didn’t admit it at the time) but I was nevertheless intrigued by the idea of Early Adventures at Sadler’s Wells to mark the 25th anniversary of Bourne’s company.

Was Bourne’s a precocious talent at the outset that Dorian Gray had not lived up to? Would these early works, like the draughtsmanship in early Picasso, show a side of his work that is difficult to discern later on? Sometimes early work, like a band’s first album, is so good its success is difficult to repeat.

It was Chris Nash’s images on the poster that overcame my initial resistance. They are lovely black and white studio shots that give a sense these are old but classic works. I also found a copy of Alastair Macaulay’s extended interview with Bourne in Faber and Faber’s 1999 publication. It’s a great introduction to the choreographer and it was reassuring for me to hear his essentially shy but self-aware voice talking about his work: ‘There were certainly some promoters who thought we were very lightweight – and possibly juvenile. Ours wasn’t considered to be serious work. We certainly wouldn’t have gone down very well at the Bagnolet New Choreography Festival – where all the other new British choreographers of that time were presenting work – or anything like that.” He discusses his training, his way of working, his dancers and talks of such influences as Sir Frederick Ashton, George Balanchine, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers as well as contemporary choreographer Lea Anderson and filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

Once at Sadler’s Wells, a glance at the printed program gave me my first cause for concern. There are the same classic photographs, but accompanied by a bewildering and artless array of mismatched typography, hyperbolic text and performance images (thanks, but I’ve already bought my ticket) highlighting the 25th anniversary celebrations of the company.

Macaulay had taught Bourne the history of dance at Laban, so there are historical references throughout his works. Spitfire, the first work on the program, is drenched in them. “It was based on the idea of men posing. Partly it was about the poses men do in underwear adverts…And it was also about the way dancers, especially male dancers strike poses in ballet: sometimes they’re poses at the end of a solo, but sometimes they’re poses right in the middle of a dance. And they’re audience-oriented in the way that the underwear ads are camera-oriented. Then, because I had had the idea of making a dance like this for four men posing in underwear, I thought of the most famous dance for four women in nineteenth century ballet, the 1845 Pas de Quatre. So the four men do groupings from the famous lithographs.” Such juxtapositions are designed for comic effect; one of Dudley Moore’s compositions for Beyond The Fringe, was a brilliant variation of the opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth symphony on a theme of Colonel Bogey. Bourne’s Spitfire is more complex: he has transposed men for women, male underwear models for romantic ballerinas in tutus, and Leon Minkus’ music – know particularly for the virtuoso ballet variations in Don Quixote – for Cesare Pugni’s romantic score. The original Pas de Quatre was choreographed for the four leading ballerinas of the age, so there would no doubt have been an element of technical and artistic competition at the heart of it, a feature that Bourne reduces to parody without the artistry. What saves Spitfire is the clever contrasting of ideas and the irreverent confounding of our expectations, but only just; it finishes as the novelty begins to fade.

Macaulay comments to Bourne in 1999: “I think now that some people felt uneasy and unsure how to take your early work because, while the dancers were often showing innocence, youthfulness, lightness they were also looking out front at the same time. The mixture of calculation, or knowingness, in address with the innocent lightness of what was going on on stage left some people in the audience thinking, ‘Is this serious? Is this light? What is it?” Bourne answers, “Good point. My view now, with humorous things, is that, if you look as though you think you’re funny, it’s not funny. If you look to the audience as though you’re asking for a response, it doesn’t work. My lesson to performers is: Show what it is that you’re trying to show, but don’t be too obvious about it, and don’t ask for laughs.”

But what if the choreographer himself is too obviously asking for laughs? This seems to be the trajectory of the last two works, Town & Country and The Infernal Gallop. The program note for Town & Country says it is remembered as ‘the piece that most crystallised the Bourne style: gloriously witty and ironic, but also strangely moving and heartfelt.’ It was nominated for outstanding achievement in dance in 1992 and has never been performed since.

Town & Country is set to English light music of the 30s and 40s (Percy Grainger, Eric Coates, Jack Strachey and Noel Coward). Two pieces are well known to English radio audiences as the theme tunes to Desert Island Discs and Housewives’ Choice (we hear the Desert Island Discs theme on a radio in the set’s hotel lobby), so there is a definite aural heritage which may be why Town & Country is billed as ‘a look at notions of national character and identity from a bygone era.’ The Infernal Gallop is set to French light music of the 30s and 40s (the most iconic of which are Edith Piaf’s Hymne à l’Amour and Charles Trenet’s La Mer) and is described as a ‘characteristically witty and astute satire of English perceptions of the French,’ though the subtle difference between a satire of English perceptions of the French and a satire of the French by an English choreographer is lost in Bourne’s gallop for laughs. I think he was wise not to take this to Bagnolet.

Macaulay suggests that perhaps Bourne is embarrassed by the prospect of handling serious emotion: that he’d rather get through emotion by giving it an entirely comic emphasis. Bourne’s answer is illustrative of these early works. “I always go into a piece with serious intent…But I get very pulled in the direction of humour, either by ideas of my own that make me laugh or by hilarious suggestions made by people within the company.” The effect of his hilarious distractions in Town & Country and The Infernal Gallop is to distance himself (and us) from the very characteristics he sets out to portray (if we can take him seriously) and the result is these two works appear as insulated from their national environment as Damien Hirst’s shark from the ocean. The only vestige of national identity is in the music itself which operates, as it were, on an emotional track of its own: close your eyes and you can sense the national characteristics in the music; open them and there is an emotional double take, as with Sir Edward Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance march played on a ukulele by a butler in a chintzy hotel lobby at the beginning of Town & Country, or with Trenet’s La Mer interpreted by ‘an effetely dressing-gowned merman, serenaded by a trio of sailors (exclamation mark)’ in The Infernal Gallop. It is significant that for Swan Lake, in which Bourne is widely thought to have reached creative maturity, he tells Macaulay he resisted the humorous distractions, from whatever the source: “Whenever that came up with Swan Lake, I pulled back and said, ‘No, this isn’t the place to do that. We’re not going to do that here.’ Often I would get quite a lot of opposition. People would say, ‘Look, this is going to be really funny. This is really going to work.’ Obviously Swan Lake does have its funny moments; but I was far more rigorous than before in deciding where humour could and couldn’t occur.”

There are nevertheless two vignettes in Town & Country in which Bourne gets close to emotional expression: his duet to Noel Coward’s song, Dearest Love, and his setting of the song by Percy Grainger, Shallow Brown, at the end of which there is an uncomfortable realization in the audience that a moment of seriousness has just passed; there is neither laughter nor applause. But perhaps the most emotional moment, one in which the audience fully engages, is the accidental death of the hedgehog by an errant clog. The tragic last moments of the little puppet figure and the actions of the mourning rabbit come across with surprising pathos. Is there a clue here to Bourne’s work? Is it possible that his choreographic form is inadequate to express emotion or is form in these early works constantly sabotaged by a preference for overplayed style and comedy? I can’t help feeling it’s a mixture of the two. Although there may well be something in Bourne’s imagination and sense of theatre that is temperamentally suited to the expressive world of the marionette, the problem is more basic. In Peter Hall’s exploration of form and language in drama, compiled in ‘Exposed by the Mask’, he comes to the conclusion that ‘performance always has to have the equivalent of a mask in order to transmit an emotion. It must have a mask, even if it is not a literal mask. It needs the equivalent if it is to deal with primal passions. It demands form – either in its text, or its physical life, or its music. All these can act like a Greek mask. Only then can strong feeling be dealt with.’

In Apart from a lovely flowing episode of entrances and exits for the dancers on scooters – Ashton’s Les Patineurs on wheels – one of the most effective scenes in Town & Country is a choreographed version of the station meeting between Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard in David Lean’s film, Brief Encounter. Instead of one couple, there are two, which gives Bourne the opportunity to play them in unison to great effect until the very end, when one woman finds herself unexpectedly alone. It also explains why the slow movement of Sergei Rachmaninov’s 2nd piano concerto finds itself on the list of English music: it accompanies the original film soundtrack.

When a choreographer is already over the top, what happens in a finale? Over the top on speed. But at the very end of The Infernal Gallop as we are about to relish the energy of Offenbach’s Gaité Parisienne, Bourne catches us unawares and beautifully understates the cancan: a masterful stroke that ironically brings the house down.