Facade the ballet is one of those that some of us have forgotten about, as Facade the ballet doesn’t come to mind when you talk about going to the ballet. Swan Lake or Gizelle are more likely to come to mind first.
Facade is a ballet done in one act. The Choreography of this ballet was done by Sir Frederick Ashton and the music by Walton.
The decor was done by John Armstrong and the entertainment was first performed by The Camargo Society at the Cambridge Theatre in London on the 26th of April 1931. The ballet was first performed by the Vic Wells Ballet on the 8th of October 1935.
Facade the ballet was originally an entertainment created by Edith Sitwell.
Edith had written a sequence of poems in which she devised a series of linguistic dazzling variations in rhythm, sound, and sense. She was an intensely musical writer and her poems were designed to be recited with a musical accompaniment which highlighted and underlined, the material and rhythmic qualities of her verse, and the young composer William Walton succeeded in no uncertain terms in achieving just these effects in the composition of his music.
Sir Osbert Sitwell notes that the title came from a remark made by an indifferent painter who observed of Edith Sitwell: ‘Very clever, no doubt…. but what is she but a facade?’
The Sitwell’s delight with this judgment is immortalized in the name given to the entertainment, which was first performed in January 1922. Wittiest of choreographers (and of dancers, as his Ugly Sister in Cinderella still proves), Ashton evidently found much to delight him in Walton’s parodies, and Faade has proved a lasting and endearing view of the dances of the twenties since its first performance in 1931.
Facade the ballet has undergone some slight additions and alterations – and was redesigned in 1940 – but currently, it comprises eight numbers:
- a Scotch Rhapsody for two girls and a boy.
- a yodeling song for a milkmaid (originally Lydia Lopokova) and three admiring youths in lederhosen, which makes wonderfully ingenious use of a stool, and offers a very original mime of milking a cow.
- a polka (first danced by Markova) in which an elegant lady steps out of her skirt, and stands revealed in a very natty corset, and dances with delectable sang-froid.
- a foxtrot follows for two couples.
- the girls in their twenties frocks.
- the boys in blazers and alarmingly oxford bags.
- a waltz for four girls.
- a popular song dance with a dead-pan precision by two boys.
- a tango pasodoble introduces the most oiled and Latin of dagoes and the most inane of debutantes.
- an irresistibly funny combination of boredom and ineptitude (first danced by Ashton and Lopokova).
- the whole company joins in a hectic final Tarantella.
At one time there were two additional numbers: a Nocturne Peruvienne for the dago alone, in which both Ashton and Helpmann in the ultimate of pinstriping and diamond rings were inordinately Spanish and funny, and a country dance for a squire, a yokel, and country girl, but these have been regrettably dropped from Facade the ballet.
Here is a 1987 video of the Polka
And here is a video of A Popular Song