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Darcey Bussell Farewell

by Ana Abad-Carles

May 15, 2007 -- Sadler's Wells, London

Darcey Bussell announced her retirement from the stages early on this year. To mark this occasion, Sadler’s Wells announced a Farewell Programme put together by George Piper Dancers (aka Ballet Boyz). This was happy news, as GPD has shown on several occasions that if there is something they can do – it is to put a programme that will entertain and attract dance audiences.

The evening started with a film of a very young Darcey Bussell in performance at school dancing William Tuckett’s “On Classicism” with William Trevitt. The curtain went up, and both Bussell and Trevitt in their mature selves danced the opening of the piece, set to Bach’s beautiful “Goldberg Variations”.

From then on, the first part of the programme combined both film (interviews with Bussell and unique footage of her dancing) and live performance and, it must be said, the transitions from one to another were faultless.

The next dance fragment was William Forsythe’s “In the Middle Somewhat Elevated” with Bussell and Roberto Bolle. Both were very good in the rendering of their variations and main pas de deux, though if truth must be said, this was the only item of the evening that gave away Bussell’s age, as the physicality demanded by Forsythe’s choreography is not easily played down.

Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux from “Tryst” brought Jonathan Copeback from retirement – wonderful news as he partnered Bussell on many occasions. It was fantastic to see him back on the stage, and this piece acted as a reminder of the wonderful moments that the second half of the programme was about to bring.

After a beautiful – though over-edited – film of Ashton’s “Cinderella” variation, the audience got the chance to experience Bussell’s rendition of Ashton choreography live in the pas de deux from “Sylvia”. Unfortunately, the variations were not danced, but Bussell looked radiant and Bolle was a more than courteous partner.

The second part of the programme consisted of time travelling into the past through Kenneth MacMillan’s “Winter Dreams”. Not having seen it since its premiere in 1990, I was looking forward to the performance of this work. To see it again and with so many dancers of her generation joining Bussell for her farewell was poignant to say the least.

Both Jonathan Cope and Nicola Trannah came out of retirement to play the roles that were either created for her (Trannah) or for Dowell (Cope). Tamara Rojo played the youngest sister – a role created for Viviana Durante – and Bolle performed the main male role once created for Irek Mukhamedov. Both Michael Nunn and Trevitt joined the group to dance the roles of the youngest sister’s admirers.

I still found the ballet too long and at times redundant in certain narrative aspects that tend to linger choreographically for too long. Still, the performances were outstanding, and a strong sense of nostalgia pervaded the piece and made it all the more poignant to watch.

Bussell’s Farewell means the end of a generation of Royal Ballet dancers. It may not have been a great generation; it certainly was a troublesome one and one that went through very difficult times indeed. Personally, I cherished those dancers and felt very sorry when they slowly abandoned the company at such young ages.

Bussell has said that there will be no “guest appearances” and no returns. She is leaving the stage at her peak when she could have surely lasted for another five to ten years.  While dance becomes a younger and younger art form, something seems to be getting lost from the theatres. Watching those dancers together in “Winter Dreams” back on the stage after such a long time reminded the audience that maturity in dance comes at a very high price.

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