Pineapple Poll Dances in Seattle

Pineapple Poll Dances in Seattle

IMG_20150727_0001In 1951, Charles Mackerras arranged a few dozen melodies from the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas to form the score of a ballet called “Pineapple Poll.” As an ardent Savoyard (viz., Gilbert and Sullivan lover), I have worn out many an LP recording of that score and play it frequently on CD, lamenting all the while that it has never been released as a video.

Well, it turns out that I have been wrong for many years! Back in 2004, the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society worked together with the Spectrum Dance Theater and performed the work as part of the Society’s season. Based on a Gilbert Bab Ballad, it tells the tale of Pineapple Poll and other lovers on and around HMS Hot Cross Bun.

51cA8aL8TuL._AA160_The score is an absolute delight. Music from all but the first and the last two of the Savoy works is represented. There is also a passage from Sullivan’s “Overture Da Ballo” and the Rataplan song from “Cox and Box”to throw off the scent any expert trying to name the origin of each melody. There are also two numbers from “Ruddigore” that had been dropped in the current recordings of that work at the time “Pineapple Poll” was created  (“The battle’s roar is over” and the original start of the Act II finale, “Having been a wicked baronet a week). This Seattle production charmingly adds a short introduction and an entr’acte not in the original score.

Now and then the lyrics sung in the operetta to the melody being played actually have reference to the situation in the ballet, and that only adds to the fun. It does indeed help to have Gilbert and Sullivan memorized now and then!

Filmed before an audience, who seems to be having a wonderful time, the production uses, perforce, a scaled-down orchestra (the original score calls for 60 players) and a scaled-down corps de ballet. Who cares? The cast is having such fun that quantity has nothing to do with it.

web pineapple poll (2)There are one or two aspects of the choreography created by Donald Byrd that strike me as a bit silly (like rolling on the ground with legs twitching in the air); but the plot is pretty silly to begin with, so what matter? I do like the camera showing the full stage when it is filled with movement, saving close-ups for solos or pas de deux. The running time is 54 minutes and there is not a dull moment in them.

A copy can be ordered through the Society’s website,

downloadNote: The ballet can also be seen in a vintage black-and-white television version on a now out of print ICA Classics DVD, along with “The Lady and the Fool.” The Seattle disc is in color, the ICA in black and white from a 1959 telecast. However, the latter is choreographed by John Cranko and must be seen, if only for the interesting contrast in interpretations between the two troupes.


Documenary Features Two Ballets Designed by Picasso

A-Picasso and DanceDocumentary Features Two Ballets Designed by Picasso

I ran across a DVD, part of which I fell in love with and all of which I wish to share with my readers.For most of my life, I have enjoyed audio recordings of Manuel De Falla’s ballet “The Three Cornered Hat.” I kept waiting for it to appear on DVD, not knowing it already had in 1994 and that it was later released on the Kultur label under the title “Picasso and Dance.” It features the Paris Opera Ballet.


The program is titled “The Story of a Marriage,” which is about the relationship between Pablo Picasso and his wife, Olga Koklova, and with three artists connected with a certain ballet company in Pairs, called the Ballets Russes. They were Sergei Diaghilev, the head of the company; Jean Cocteau, the director who worked on the scenarios; and Leonide Massine, the choreographer and one of the primo ballerinos.  It fell to Picasso to design the costumes and sets for some of the works in his own fantastic style. What drew me to this disc is that “Three Cornered Hat” ballet, which is listed almost always as “El Sombrero de tres picos,” is given its original title on this Kultur disc, “Le Tricorne.” No wonder I missed it.

My only negative comment is the rapid pace in which conductor David Coleman takes the opening bars with the famous trumpet call and kettledrum backup. Many who have never heard the full score have probably heard a suite of dances from this ballet.

Manuel de Falla

The music is fabulous, the dancing hypnotizing, the costumes colorful and vary between realistic and fanciful; and minimal scenery is an instructive example of “less is more.” The plot is simple. The Governor of a town clownishly tries to seduce the Miller’s wife and is thwarted and humiliated for his presumption. Massine spent a lot of time in Spain to study Spanish dancing; and the result shows impressively. His original choreography is used here.

“Le Train blue” (The Blue Train) has no plot whatsoever. A group of the idle rich is cavorting on a beach, there is romance on a tennis court, and then more back on the beach. The costumes are Picasso’s idea of 1920 swim ware and are quite colorful. The score is by Darius Milhaud, the choreography by Bronsislava Nijinska.

The film that acts as a framing device for the two complete ballets has fascinating vintage photographs and footage of the original people involved and even rehearsal scenes with Massine as the Miller. These sequences have subtitles and the total running time is 81 minutes.




Shakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale” is Superbly Set to Dance

A-Winter's Tale balletShakespeare’s “Winter’s Tale” is Superbly Set to Dance

Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” begins in Sicilia where King Leontes is persuading his best friend, King Polixenes of Bohemia, to extend his visit. But when Leontes’ Queen Hermione does persuade the guest to say, Leontes is seized by a sudden mad fit of jealousy and is convinced that the child within Hermione is not his.

The first act of the ballet “The Winter’s Tale” turns all this to dance, with music by Joby Talbot and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. I didn’t know what to expect when I began this Opus Arte DVD but was mightily impressed with how Shakespeare’s script was so powerfully translated into ballet.

This world premiere production from the Royal Opera House with the Royal Ballet was recorded in April 2014, not too long after Talbot’s much acclaimed ballet “Alice in Wonderland.”

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Edward Watson, the Leontes in this production

As in Shakespeare’s play, very little happens when Leontes’ daughter Perdita (Sarah Lamb), long thought dead, rejoices in the love of Florizel (Steven McRae) son of Polixenes. So the second act of the ballet rejoices in pure dance, with little story to act out. The presence of an on-stage band of four players adds to the bucolic and long-time-ago atmosphere of the scene. (Yes, the accordion is a bit too modern, but let that go.)

The comic character of Autolycus is dropped from this scenario, but that of Hermione’s companion Paulina (Zenalda Yanowsky)  is essential, since it is she that comforts Leontes when his sanity returns—and of course helps with the denouement, which is truly a fairy tale moment.

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Joby Talbot

Talbot’s score reminds me of Prokofiev’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a brilliant version of which by the same company is available on another Opus Arte set, and more than a hint of Stravinsky’s “Petrushka.” The use of computer generated images is good by not being intrusive.

All in all, this is a superior production and can be enjoyed by lovers of the ballet and of Shakespeare equally. The running time is 2 hours for the ballet and 15 minutes for some bonus features about the production. But why can’t the Opus Arte production team give a tracking list in the booklet? Is that too much to ask?



Alice Thrives in a Ballet Wonderland


A-Alice BalletAlice Thrives in a Ballet Wonderland

In 2011, the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, saw the world premiere of a full length ballet called “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” with music by Joby Talbot and choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. I am delighted it was recorded and is now available on an OpusArte DVD.

In the first 15 minutes, we are introduced to Alice (danced as a teenager by Lauren Cuthbertson), her parents, sisters, and party guests. After she falls down the rabbit hole, there is much doubling of roles. In this way, her mean mother becomes the Red Queen (Zenaida Yanowsky); the ineffectual father the Red King (Christopher Saunders); Lewis Carroll the White Rabbit (Edward Watson); a party magician the Mad Hatter (Steven McRae); and so on.

I feel that the introduction of Jack (Sergei Polunin), an employee of Alice’s parents who is fired when they learn that he and Alice are in love, and his doubling as the Knave of Hearts, are unnecessary additions to Carroll’s original. It does provide an excuse for a pas de deux, but that is all.

Other than the expected computer-generated projections, there are many delightful surprises. The Mad Hatter tap dances. The Duchess is given to Shakespearean actor Simon Russell Beale. The Cheshire Cat dominates the stage and comes in separable parts.

As for the CGI showing Alice’s fall into and rise out of the rabbit hole, I cannot tell what the audience saw at that time. I do feel that a video of a “live” performance should not include visuals that were not shown to the audience in the theater at the time.

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Joby Talbot

Talbot’s music, while not lingering in the memory, has just the right amount of “magic” needed for the many fantastic sequences. It becomes a little less than original during the pas de deux with Alice and the Knave. Also, given stage limitations, everything seems to come to Alice rather than her wandering to the next adventure. But that is a quibble.

And the funniest moment is the “Sleeping Beauty” spoof when the music turns Tchaikovskian and the Red Queen does a turn that brings down the house with laughter and applause.

The running time is 121 minutes and OpusArte, as always, provides no tracking list in the program notes.