Swans take flight

Sat, Mar 30, 1996, 00:00

AN increase - by 26 per cent - the dance budget of the Arts Council and the appointment of an arts officer with special responsibility for dance reflects the growing (if belated) awareness of an appetite for all forms of dance in this country. Wistful critics, however, might say that opportunities to view the classical repertoire in Ireland have been sacrificed to the accessibility of modern dance forms; there have been visits from the great companies - the Kirov, for example - but apart from small, localised productions there is little to warm the cockles of any heart yearning for a Giselle or a Coppelia now and again, in the full knowledge that these are but the figurines on the cake of classical ballet.

The Vienna Festival Ballet is a relatively new name on the short list of internationally recognised companies. On its second visit to Ireland (it opens for two nights in Cork at the Opera House tomorrow night and visits Mullingar, Dundalk, Galway, Newry, Belfast, Derry and Waterford on a tour ending on April 15th) it is bringing a single, opera length ballet, the timeless Swan Lake. Founded in 1980 by Austrian Peter Mallek the company uses predominantly young dancers who, instead of waiting patiently in smaller roles or the corps de ballet as would be the case with the major companies, are given the chance to perform a series of classical roles. Mallek, as artistic director, has his own provenance, having trained in Vienna in the Russian style before going on to work with the national ballet companies of Australia and The Netherlands as well as the American Ballet Theatre and the London Festival Ballet.

Principal dancers for this production include Sheila Styles, a graduate of Sadlers Vells, and Fiona Morley, who trained with the Ballet Rambert School in London. This version of Swan Lake is restaged by Terence Etheridge (after Petipa); those who believe that the work has only survived because of Tchaikovsky's music may have had some right on their side before modern dancers began to explore the tremendous dramatic potential of the central Odette/Odile role.

Still, it remains a ballet coloured with the technique of Diaghilev and the lingering resonance of the dancer Legnani for whom, as the greatest virtuoso of her day, it was created. She was the first to spin all those fouettes which are now expected of every modern dancer worthy of the title ballerina - including those of the Vienna Festival Ballet.