Cranko’s joyous male ballet blanc: Concerto for Flute and Harp

June 11, 2020

David Mead

It was 1966, and Sir Peter Wright was creating his Giselle for Stuttgart Ballet. As he worked on Act II, artistic director John Cranko needed something for the men to do. His answer: Concerto for Flute and Harp to Mozart’s Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra in C major, in some ways a mirror of what was going on in that other studio in that it’s a male ballet blanc for two couples and a corps of ten men. The two ballets went on to form a double bill for several years (not having a second, short ballet alongside Giselle is a relatively modern practice).

Look closely and you’ll spot references to Giselle too, although ‘Concerto‘ is very different in mood. This is a ballet fully flavoured with Cranko’s inventiveness. In many ways it reminds me of one or two Balanchine ballets, but with the women replaced by men and vice-versa. As it tends towards neoclassical, it’s a dance very much about the joy of dancing and, you do get the feeling, just a little tongue-in-cheek. Even on film, one senses that it’s as much fun to do as to watch, even if the men don’t always quite match the synchronicity a top female corps.

Stuttgart Ballet in Concerto for Flute and HarpFront: Ami Morita, David Moore, Friedemann Voge, Alicia AmatriainPhoto Stuttgart Ballet
Stuttgart Ballet in Concerto for Flute and Harp
Front: Ami Morita, David Moore, Friedemann Voge, Alicia Amatriain
Photo Stuttgart Ballet

The choreography is packed with neat lines and intricate patterns that are always changing. The male leads often appear as part of the corps (they are identically dressed) from which they emerge for solos before being reabsorbed. The four leads, here Alicia Amatriain and Friedemann Vogel, and Ami Morita and David Moore, also switch partners too, the other men sometimes sharing in partnering too. If that all sounds terribly complex, it’s because it is.

The steps are challenging too. Turns, jumps, lifts often come thick and fast, as you might expect from Cranko. But there’s lots of variation too, notably when the ensemble give up the stage to a couple in any of the several delightful adagio pas de deux, most notably that for Amatriain and Vogel in the middle of the ballet. Unusually for a male, there is something quite beautiful about Vogel’s line in arabesque and the way it reaches out into space. For something a little sharper, the playful duet that follows for the lively Morita and cheerful Moore, and that’s full of very quick footwork, runs it close.

Watching it now, it seems surprising that it was out of the repertory for thirty years from 1987. Concerto for Flute and Harp is dance that leaves a smile on the face; a gem that I look forward to seeing live again. Hopefully soon.

Stuttgart Ballet in John Cranko’s Concerto for Flute and Harp is available at until 9pm (UK) on June 14, 2020.