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Critical standards in ballet seem to have gone the way of all the others in this amusement-hungry post-war era--if the reactions of an audience that packed the Opera House for the benefit of the Hugh Cabot Memorial Fund Tuesday night can be accounted typical. The obviously eager crowd cheered shoddy performance after performance, dull choreography, and unimaginative costumes and sets.
In comparison to the competing Ballet Theatre, the Ballet Russe company is pathetically weak. It is short on stars capable of handling the more difficult roles, and second-rate in its ensemble dancers. But the main shortcoming of the company is imagination, the kind of imagination in choreography and staging that enables the Ballet Theatre to give productions like its "Firebird" (with sets by Chagall!), "On Stage," or "Fair at Sorochinsk," efforts that the Ballet Russe perhaps through unavoidable monetary restrictions--would never even try to equal.
The good productions of the present group are their almost patented Americana numbers, "Rodco" and "Frankie and Johnny" being the most popular examples. A second viewing of "Rodeo" Tuesday night was much pleasanter than this reviewer had expected. The charm of Aaron Copland's folk-like music, the vivacious gaiety of Agnes DcMille's dances, the colorful costuming, and the simple, attractive story stand up very well indeed beside works of greater fame.
"Baiser de la Fee" was the big disappointment of the Tuesday program. Its music is early Stravinsky--in the composer's words, "after Tchaikowsky"--without the electric qualities of the great modernist's later work, over-gushy like the compositions of the earlier Russian Romantic but lacking their slick appeal. The story is Nineteenth Century and dull, the dancing, including that of Nathalic Krassovska as the Fairy and star Alexandra Danilova as the Bride, completely uninspiring.
The remainder of Tuesday night's lengthy program consisted of "L'Apres Midi d'un Faune" and "Concerto Barocco." Despite amateurish scenery and the unexplained and crippling absence of Maitre de Ballet Frederic Franklin from the lead, the music, in the hands of the group's competent orchestra, provided enough enjoyment to make the Debussy ballet almost worthwhile.
Since the break-up of the original American Ballet Russe, the public has had to choose between a good company nta exorbitant prices and a poor one at popular levels, but last week the Ballet Theatre announced its departure from the aegis of sticky-fingered promoter S. Hurok. Perhaps this presages a good company at exorbitant prices and a poor one duce at least one company of ample resources, free of prohibitive commercialism.
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