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Daphnis and Chloë did not have a particularly smooth inception, as noted in these introductory notes published when Birmingham Royal Ballet first performed the ballet in 2007:

The piece had a particularly complicated birth, with creative input being offered by Sergei Diaghilev, choreographer Mikhail Fokine, and composer Maurice Ravel. Although all had already established names for themselves, they still had much to prove, and while the three shared an overall unified vision, the keenness of each to bring their own elements resulted in regular conflict.

Even upon the completion of the work, Diaghilev staged it rarely, and often without the choir for whom Ravel had written considerable parts in his score. Ravel and Fokine, however, always thought favourably of the final work, and the choreographer continued to stage the work over the next 20 years. In addition to the ballet performances, Ravel went on to create two popular concert suites from the score, excerpts of which were included in the Royal Ballet Sinfonia’s Evening of Music and Dance at the end of March 2007.

Frederick Ashton’s Daphnis and Chloë, with sets and costumes by John Craxton, opened at the Royal Opera House on 4 April 1951, with Margot Fonteyn as Chloë, Michael Somes as Daphnis, Violetta Elvin as Lykanion and John Field as Dorkon. A new production, with designs by Martyn Bainbridge, opened on 10 November 1994, with Trinidad Sevillano, Stuart Cassidy, Benazir Hussein and Adam Cooper.

Birmingham Royal Ballet performs a double bill of Ashton ballets tomorrow and Wednesday at London Coliseum.

Here’s our guide to the characters in one of the ballets, Daphnis and Chloë:

Daphnis is a goatherd, and the hero of our story. As a baby, he was found in a field by his adopted father Lamon, who takes the child home and raises him with the help of his wife, Myrtale. As he grows up, he falls in love with a shepherdess named Chloë, who has been adopted by another couple. Neither child is aware of their true parentage, but there are clues that they are both of noble lineage.

The figure is not to be confused with another character called Daphnis from Greek mythology, a son of Hermes. Also a shepherd, and a flautist, he is cited as the inventor of pastoral poetry, and was taught to play the pan pipes by Pan. Despite these coincidences, the Daphnis from the story on which the ballet is adapted is not considered to be based on this character.

Chloë is the heroine of the ballet, a young Shepherdess who is in love with Daphnis. In the original stories, while the two are still babies, both Chloë’s and Daphnis’s fathers have identical dreams in which Cupid touches the two future lovers with the same arrow. In the same dream, the fathers are both instructed to train their wards to tend sheep, an act which leads the two to meet and grow up together, over time falling in love.

In the ballet, there is never any doubt that the two are meant for each other, however doubt is cast on their future when Chloë is carried off by a band of pirates who attack the country.

Dorkon, a local cowherd, is a rival for Chloë’s affections. In the original Greek stories, he is a far more aggressive character than in the ballet, but makes amends during a pirate attack by sacrificing himself while unsuccessfully trying to defend Chloë. She is kidnapped, however, and carried off by the pirates, along with Dorcon’s cows. With his dying breath, Dorkon reveals a set of pipes which can be used to command his stolen cattle. Upon a note on the pipes, the cattle all suddenly move to one side of the pirate’s boat, capsizing it. The heavily armoured villains all drown, leaving their captive and the cows to swim to safety.

In the ballet, however, these elements of the story would have proven somewhat difficult to stage(!), and so Dorkon’s role is reduced somewhat. He is still a rival for Chloë’s affections, however, and he and Daphnis compete for her love in a dancing competition.

Lykanion is a local girl who tries to seduce Daphnis away from Chloë. In Ravel’s original score she is titled ‘the Temptress’, performing a ‘Dance of veils’ to try and capture him for herself. She is unsuccessful, however the young man’s confusion at her wild dancing highlights how naive and innocent the two lovers still are.

Bryaxis is the villain of the ballet, the leader of a band of Pirates from the city of Pyrrha that swoop in and kidnap Chloë, along with Dorcon’s cattle. Upon carrying her off, the pirate chief commands Chloë to dance for him and his men. He is defeated, however, when Daphnis prays to the nymphs and invokes the god Pan to help him save his love.

A figure from Greek mythology, Pan is variously cited as the god of shepherds, flocks, pastures, woodlands, hunting and rustic music. He was born with a full beard, as well as the horns and hindquarters of a goat, and was apparently such a sight that he caused the midwife to take flight in fright. Because of this he is sometimes also attributed as the god of sudden terror, hence the word ‘panic’.

The stories of Pan tell of how he fell in love with an arcadian nymph called Syrinx, who spurned his advances. Fleeing from him, she ran down to a river and turned herself into the reeds to hide. Dejected, he fashioned a set of pipes from the reeds, now known as ‘panpipes’, or ‘Syrinx’, after the nymph herself.

In the ballet, it is supposed to be the memory of his love for Syrinx which causes Pan to take pity on Daphnis and Chloë, and come to their aid.

Birmingham Royal Ballet perform Daphnis and Chloë this week at London Coliseum as part of Spring Passions. Click here to book.

Birmingham Royal Ballet performs Daphnis and Chloë at the London Coliseum, 13-14 March 2012, as part of the Spring Passions programme.

Here you can see photographs taken last time we danced the ballet, from the wings either side of the main stage:

Sets and sidelights

The Company notator gives notes to the dancers

Chloë and Pan

Iain Mackay as Daphnis and Elisha Willis as Chloë

Dancers waiting backstage

Click here to book for Spring Passions at London Coliseum, 13-14 March 2012.

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