By Aradhana Kiran, Maya Haridas and Siddhie Pillai
In this blog in the Ballet on the Big Screen series, we’ll be featuring a fun classical ballet for a younger audience: Tales of Beatrix Potter. The musical score was compiled by composer John Lanchbery from tunes by Minkus, Balfe, Offenbach, Sullivan and others, and was choreographed by the famous British choreographer, Sir Frederick Ashton. This ballet will be screened for younger students in the months to come.
Sir Frederick Ashton – Choreographer
Determined to be a dancer, despite the opposition of his conventional middle-class family, Ashton was accepted as a pupil by Léonide Massine and then by Marie Rambert. In 1926 Rambert encouraged him to try his hand at choreography, and though he continued to dance professionally, with success, it was as a choreographer that he became famous.
Ashton was chief choreographer to Ninette de Valois, from 1935 until her retirement in 1963, in the company known successively as the Vic-Wells Ballet, the Sadler’s Wells Ballet and the Royal Ballet. He succeeded de Valois as director of the company, serving until his own retirement in 1970.
Ashton is widely credited with the creation of a specifically English genre of ballet. Among his best-known works are Façade (1931), Symphonic Variations (1946), Cinderella (1948), La fille mal gardée (1960), Monotones I and II (1965), Enigma Variations (1968) and the feature film ballet The Tales of Beatrix Potter (1970).
The ballet version of Tales of Beatrix Potter was created in 1971 for a film, which for the first time brought the famous images and stories of Beatrix Potter to a screen. It was later translated onto the stage complete with the most wonderfully realistic costumes, bringing fun and charm to all age groups. This ballet is made up of five short stories to create a full length ballet. The score includes John Lanchbery’s music, which mostly incorporates forgotten Victorian melodies. It is utterly captivating, allowing the audience to see the energetic performances of the dancers. The film adapts the beloved animal stories of Beatrix Potter into a full-fledged ballet performance danced by various stars of the Royal Ballet.
The story follows a young Beatrix Potter hard at work on her writing when, suddenly, her fictional creations come dancing into the real world. Mice, ducks, frogs, squirrels, and of course, rabbits, all figure into Potter’s colorful menagerie, as the members of the Royal Ballet company bring Squirrel Nutkin, Tom Thumb, Hunca Munca, Jemima Puddle-Duck, Jeremy Fisher, Pigling Bland, Peter Rabbit and other Potter creations to life. Moving through beautiful sets and wearing enchanting animal costumes, the dancers render each creature with a kind of freewheeling authenticity that separates the piece from typical ballet fare.