There seems to be a lot of ballet around at the moment. We’ve just had the awesome Black Swan, and on BBC Four at the moment, we’re two thirds of the way into a great behind the scenes documentary about English National Ballet (“Unprecedented access” and all).
Sky Arts has been showing a series of ballets from the Royal Ballet, and BBC Two put its annual Christmas ballet on, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Cinderella.
Then at the weekend, BBC Two showed The Red Shoes as part of a Powell and Pressburger double bill. Whenever that film’s on, I can’t fail to watch a large chunk of it, even though I have it on DVD.
That all brings us to the Pet Shop Boys’ new ballet – The Most Incredible Thing. It’s based on a Hans Christian Anderson tale that I only very vaguely recall. Helpfully the programme reprints the story in full, but it’s a simple story about a contest to win half a king’s kingdom and the hand of his daughter in marriage.
The Pet Shop Boys, of whom I’m a fan, have written this ballet’s music and Javier De Frutos has choreographed it. I went to last night’s preview – with the opening night being tonight. Overall it was a good evening, although I do have a few reservations. The music is very much what you’d expect from the Pet Shop Boys. I couldn’t see into the orchestra pit from my position in the stalls, but although there were live musicians, much of the music sounded like a typical Pet Shop Boys’ concert, and therefore could have been driven by Chris Lowe’s keyboards.
The lighting and staging was superb. This has always been an area in which the Pet Shop Boys have excelled, and the production makes good use of a circular LED screen which acts as the Act 2 clock.
Because the story revolves around a competition, it’s natural that in 2011, this should be realised as a television talent show. There are also plenty of filmed inserts and interludes which are very eye-catching. And I did like the odd nod to PSB hits of the past. In when it looks as though the princess is about to married, we hear thunder reminiscent of the beginning of It’s A Sin, and the minister who is to conduct the procedings looks as though he’s stepped straight out of that song’s video.
I suppose the area I was left a little wanting was the actual dancing. Where ballet and modern dance converge is a tricky area, and I wouldn’t like to determine one from the other. I certainly don’t expect ballet to just be women in tutus. But while it was proficient, I’m just not sure it was exceptional. The staging certainly seemed to overpower the dance element.
Still, I good evening out, and you come away humming some of the musical numbers. But for dance, I’m more inclined to put my Red Shoes DVD on.