I have found that getting students to read these articles and contemplate what was happening to Ballet Rambert before, during and after the changes of 1966 has been really useful, not only in developing their knowledge but providing further context points for essays. A key thing to note is that Ballet Rambert was in the paper… in today’s world it is rarer for dance companies to be in standard newspapers. This can be for many reasons… the fact that there are so many popular companies now compared to the 60s or that there are now plenty of dance-specific papers and magazines. Either way, these articles do offer an insight into the importance of Ballet Rambert at the time, evidencing the need for them to change in order to survive.
Friday December 10 1965
Ballet Rambert Facing Extinction
From our Special Correspondent
The Ballet Rambert, Britain’s oldest ballet company and one of the most distinguished companies in the world, is facing threat of extinction unless fundamental changes take place in the organisation of British ballet. It should be said first that the difficulties are not of the kind to be met with an emergency grant from the Arts council, because fundamentally the company’s problems are not financial. The problems come at root from the fact that the Ballet Rambert has no permanent base. The long-promised, long-projected London theatre for the company, whether it be its own Mercury Theatre at Notting Hill Gate or participation in the City’s Barbican Theatre, still seems so much pie in the sky. That this pie will eventually materialise, is no help for this year, next year or the year after.
Since its formation in 1930, the Rambert has been in the forefront of world ballet. Its director Dame Marie Rambert discovered as choreographers Ashton, Tudor, Andree Howard, Frank Staff, Walter Gore, and, most recently of all, Norman Morrice. As the Rambert repertory also includes works by Fokine, Balanchine, De Vakius, Cranko, MacMillan, as well as the full-length classics, Giselle, Coppelia, and, more enterprisingly, La Sylphide and Don Quixote, it will be seen that for range and scope it is probably unequalled anywhere. Why then is it in difficulties? The lack of a home has made Ballet Rambert an itinerant troupe. Now in Britain at present we seem to have the situation of too much ballet chasing too few audiences and theatres. With no central planning the various “state” ballet companies have been running around in circles treading delicately on one another’s heels and stamping clumsily on one another’s toes.
Bad for the Morale
Fighting to obtain audiences, all the companies have tried to produce popular programmes. So that a company like the Ballet Rambert is reduced to a steady diet of Coppelia and Giselle, which is disastrous for the morale of the company, a morale further debilated by the never-ending misery of suitcase living and genteel poverty which are the dancers usual rewards. The Ballet Rambert has now reached a crisis, and it looks as though the end of the road could be just round the corner. Does this matter? It might be suggested that the Ballet Rambert has played its part in the formation of British ballet and is now in any event obsolescent. The fact that other companies are better able to survive might also suggest that they are more worthy of survival, and after ritual tears we should pass on. Were this to be true, nothing could be easier. But the fact is that Ballet Rambert does not offer the chance of a proper, full-scale opposition to the Royal Ballet. And the Royal Ballet needs a strong alternative company, just as the National Theatre needs the Royal Shakespeare, or the London Symphony Orchestra needs the New Philharmonia. No other ballet
company has the scope and resource to put itself up as a rival/ In the past 10 years the Ballet Rambert has achieved enough to make its survival a prime necessity for the entire world of ballet.
Strangely enough its survival, indeed its existence, should have been secured by now. More than a year ago a merger plan for the Ballet Rambert and London’s Festival Ballet was announced, and it was confidently expected that the large, unproductive forces of London’s Festival Ballet would be given the artistic purpose of the Ballet Rambert. This merger was shelved, but now seems to have been revived. London’s Festival Ballet mounted a lavish production of Swan Lake, but the plan to bring together their dancers and repertories has, apparently, come to nothing, through the dilatoriness of the authorities concerned. The present plight of the Ballet Rambert shows that both companies cannot survive as separate units, and it is the more worthy and distinguished that seems in danger of collapse.
Unless these authorities wish to see the death of Ballet Rambert such as merger must be implemented on the original basis without any further delay. The only realistic alternative is to provide Ballet Rambert with an immediate London home.
Wednesday June 16 1966
A Sad Occasion for the Ballet Rambert
From our Special Correspondent
“I want to be able to create surroundings in which birth can occur” -the speaker was Dame Marie Rambert, still justifying after four decades of unimaginably sustained effort the description once made of her as the midwife of British ballet. It is forty years to the day since she and Frederick Ashton appeared in a little ballet in the revue Riverside Nights at the Lyric, Hammersmith. Dame Marie Rambert’s first production and Ashton’s first choreography, A Tragedy of Fashion not only began two remarkable careers but was the point of departure for the whole of modern English ballet. Tonight the Ballet Rambert celebrates this anniversary at Golders Green with a programme characteristically comprising a celebrated revival of Giselle and a creation by Rambert’s latest choreographic discovery. But for all who have grown to love and admire this extraordinarily productive company, the pleasure is dimmed by the knowledge that after this week it has only one further engagement, in the open air at Holland Park, before disbanding in its present form. Even the plans for a new company to rise phoenix-like from the ashes cannot disguise the loss. Rambert’s first achievement, in the thirties, was to develop a whole school of English choreographers including the two talents which still dominate the rest, Ashton and Tudor. After the war she was able, with an expanded company, to throw new light on the familiar romantic classics. More recently (with Mr. David Ellis as Rambert’s strong right arm) these two aspects of the company’s work were patiently aligned into balance as the cornerstone of a further potential development, with welcome revivals of unfamiliar past masterpieces like La Sylphide or Don Quixote set in conjunction with a series of adventurous creations by Norman Morrice. Looking back on the events of the past year or so, there is a sad irony in observing how this policy foundered in stormy economic waters. It was in an attempt to salvage the then leaky vessel of
Festival Ballet that the fortunes of the two companies were grappled together. Now Festival Ballet sails on under a new artistic flag while the treasures of Ballet Rambert are allowed to sink. The large-scale Rambert company with its classics is to be abandoned, and as Dame Marie Rambert says, “For me it is a dreadful loss because I loved the classics”. Even here, though, she finds consolation, for the old policy involved constant touring, and “we found this nomadic existence destructive to creative possibilities”. She and Norman Morrice have therefore planned a new, smaller company, intended to spend much of its time in creating new works by unknown and established choreographers. For this, Rambert’s great hope is to produce “surroundings for creation – not only peace but, what we had at the Mercury when we produced all our choreographers in the thirties, a real atmosphere of interest in creation all around you”. How practicable this will prove depends, primarily, on the Arts Council’s continued support, but it would be unthinkable for the means not to be found for something so obviously worthwhile. The past of Ballet Rambert is a proud one; its future is no less important to the health of British ballet.
Monday August 29 1966
New Format for the Ballet Rambert
The Mercury Theatre Trust announces that the New Ballet Rambert Company, under the direction of Dame Marie Rambert and Mr. Norman Morrice, will give a two-week season at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre from November 28 to December 10. Miss Maryon Lane, of the Royal Ballet company, will appear during the season, which will include the world premieres of at least three ballets, and the revival of a number of Antony Tudor works. The performances to be given at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre will be the first by the reformed Ballet Rambert. This is to be smaller than the old company, comprising 18 or so dancers: a number sufficient to preserve all the most famous original works from the old Rambert repertory, but few enough to be viable in a small theatre. The nucleus has been drawn from among soloists and some of the most promising young dancers in the former company, and these have been rehearsing together since the company ceased performing early in July. Other soloists have been recruited from outside, however, including Miss Hazel Merry, who will dance one of the roles in Night Island, already mounted for the company by the Dutch choreographer Rudi van Dantzig. Miss Maryon Lane’s guest appearances are expected to include her debut in Tudor’s Jardin Aux Lilas. She will also recreate the leading role in Kenneth MacMillan’s Laiderette which she danced at its first performance. From the outset, the policy of the new company puts almost equal emphasis on two aims, to create and to preserve. On one hand choreographers, both new and established, will be given scope for experiment, including (it is understood) special workshop performances as well as the public seasons. One already at work is John Chesworth. one of the com-pany’s leading dancers whose first ballet Time Base uses music by the Polish composer, Lutoslavski. At the same time, more extensive rehearsal facilities than could be provided in touring conditions will, it is hoped, make possible the restoration of past masterpieces. comparable with the cleaning of old pictures. One interesting innovation is that the dancers are taking regular classes not only in classical ballet but also in Martha Graham’s modern dance technique, and several American choreographers have expressed the hope of working with them.
Monday December 18 1967
Ballet Rambert Restored
By John Percival, Ballet Critic
Looking at Ballet Rambert, which has just finished a season at the Jeannetta Cochrane Theatre, and comparing it with the company we remember a couple of seasons ago, is exactly like meeting an old friend who has been on a diet and looks younger, more lively, muscular and attractive. The weight that has been lost consisted of a slightly substandard corps de ballet and some classical productions which, although stylish and interesting, were not always well enough danced. It is exactly a year this week since the reinvigorated company made its first public appearance, and this is a good time for looking back and assessing results of its healthier condition. Even judged only in quantitative terms, the year’s achievement has been impressive. Eight entirely new ballets have been produced, seven more have been given their European or British premieres. In addition, eight works from the old Rambert repertory have been given, some of them considerably refurbished. What is more important is the qualitative aspect. Almost all the new ballets have been interesting, a majority of them proved successful, and some are very fine indeed. Perhaps the most striking feature has been the association with two distinguished American creators, Glen
Tetley and Anna Sokolow. They have helped to bring an approach entirely new for a British company, a greater freedom of both movement and ideas. In addition, the company has continued its traditional function of helping to develop British choreographers, a function which in the past produced Ashton, Tudor, Gore, Morrice and others. In this respect, the new-look Rambert is really an old look restored, a restoration of the role Rambert played in the birth of British ballet. Paradoxically, it is exactly this reversion to old policies that has made the company so forward- looking today. The aim once more is creation, and the propitious circumstances have brought on a fine fury of experimentation. For instance, although you will find Vivaldi, Debussy and even Fritz Kreisler among the composers of the new works, you will also (more typically) find Stockhausen and Lutoslavski. Max Schuber and Edgar Varese. The use of contemporary composers is important in keeping ballet abreast of current thought and attitudes. It is no less important to modern music itself, since stage presentation can often help audiences to accept unfamiliar sounds. In visual presentation too, Ballet Rambert is helping to push barriers down. Rouben Ter-
Arutunian’s structures give an unearthly beauty to Pierrot Lunaire and Ricercare, but these are both imports. More to the point, the created works have brought some splendid ideas from Nadine
ayliss and have given their first opportunities to six young designers from the Central School,
some of whom I would guess will be heard of much more in future. Designs on the whole have been austere but imaginative, and lighting of a more inspired nature than the English theatre is accustomed to has prevented them for ever looking dreary. In the standard of dancing, too, what a difference there has been in so short a time. Established soloists have matured in the new atmosphere, and young talent is coming on fast with, notably, a promising group of young men.
Even more important than the achievements of individuals, a strong company style has been re- established, an element of team work that makes ballets like Ziggnrat, Freefall and Deserts (the latest acquisitions) tremendously impressive. None of these is a particularly easy work and this, too, is characteristic of the company now. It has set its sights high, and the person who wants from ballet nothing but the tarlatans and pretty melodies of the old classics (a perfectly legitimate preference) would do better to stay away. There is, however, a growing minority that wants from ballet the same sort of intellectual content and stimulus that it finds in contemporary drama. This is what Ballet Rambert is providing. The experiment of a year ago (an experiment, incidentally, for which the far-seeing support of the Arts Council deserves great credit) has worked, and the British theatre is the richer for it.