#Throwback Thursday: Pineapple Poll

Today's #ThrowbackThursday features comic ballet Pineapple Poll.

Carol-Anne Millar as Pineapple Poll, Birmingham Royal Ballet

Inspired by the comic opera of Gilbert and Sullivan (such as The Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore), Pineapple Poll is based on 'The Bumboat Woman's Story', which was written by as one of Gilbert's Bab Ballads in 1870. The same story also inspired H.M.S. Pinafore.

Elaine Fifield and David Blair in 'Pineapple Poll', Royal Ballet, c. 1953

Pineapple Poll begins just as the H.M.S. Hot Cross Bun has docked in Portsmouth and the sailors are going on shore leave. Pineapple Poll arrives with a basket of flowers, which the sailors buy to give to their girlfriends. Jasper, the 'pot boy' at the local inn, serves drinks to the sailors and proffers his love to Pineapple Poll, who rejects him. To the sailors' dismay, Captain Belaye of the H.M.S. Hot Cross Bun arrives and is soon mobbed by the admiring girls, including Pineapple Poll. When the Captain has finally been left alone, Blanche arrives with her aunt, Mrs. Dimple. Blanche and the Captain fall in love at once, and though Mrs. Dimple initially disapproves, she eventually relents. As the Captain returns to the ship, the other girls and Pineapple Poll attempt once more to gain his attention, but the Captain manages to escape with difficulty. The sailors now resent the Captain because their girlfriends have lost interest in them.

Birmingham Royal Ballet

At nightfall, some 'sailors' return to the ship. Pineapple Poll arrives at the wharf carrying naval clothing, in which she dresses herself. Thus disguised, she joins the other 'sailors' on board ship. Jasper comes along and finds Pineapple Poll's clothing abandoned on the wharf. Devastated, he assumes she has drowned and gathers up her clothing.

Birmingham Royal Ballet

The following morning, Captain Belaye is taking his crew through the usual drills on board the H.M.S. Hot Cross Bun. Although the 'sailors' are in the usual uniforms, they are much smaller than usual, though the Captain fails to notice this. Pineapple Poll evens goes en pointe several times, and the 'sailors' are all looking adoringly up at him, but still the Captain does not notice. He is surprised, however, when a cannon goes off and some of the 'sailors' faint at the noise, but leaves the ship unawares of their true identity. A little later, he returns with Blanche, who is dressed as a bride, and Mrs. Dimple. The 'sailors' faint in shock, and when they recover, demonstrate to the Captain that they are in fact female. Blanche and her aunt are horrified at this discovery, and the Captain is stunned.

Victoria Marr, Robert Parker, and Arancha Baselga, Birmingham Royal Ballet

Just then, the ship's actual crew arrives, with Jasper in tow. They are very annoyed, and the girls have to coax them to take them back, which they eventually do. But Pineapple Poll is still enamoured with the Captain. Meanwhile, Belaye, who has been promoted to Admiral, returns with his bride, Blanche, and Mrs. Dimple. Pineapple Poll swoons at the sight of him, to Jasper's distress, but Mrs. Dimple has thought of a solution. She gives Jasper Belaye's Captain's uniform, and as soon as he puts it on, Pineapple Poll turns her affections to him. He also becomes the new Captain of the H.M.S. Hot Cross Bun, though he has never been a sailor. The sailors are not particularly pleased with this new development, especially since their girlfriends are now interested in Jasper. However, this time they manage to restrain them, and all ends happily.

Elaine Fifield as Pineapple Poll, 1966

The ballet was created by choreographer John Cranko and arranger Sir Charles Mackerras. Mackerras had been involved in Gilbert and Sullivan operettas as a youth, and thought that the music would make a popular ballet, along the lines of the successful ballets Gaite Parisienne, Le Beau Danube, and La Boutique Fantastique (popularised, of course, by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo). However, he had to wait until 1950, when the copyright on Sullivan's music expired. In the meantime, he had become assistant conductor and repetiteur for the Sadler's Wells Opera. At the suggestion of Peggy van Praagh, Mackerras began work on his idea with choreographer John Cranko. They lengthened the libretto and gave Pineapple Poll an admirer so that there could be a happy ending. The score was arranged from the majority of Sullivan's work, and includes pieces from the most famous operettas.

Patricia Miller and David Poole, Sadler's Wells Ballet

Pineapple Poll premiered on March 13 1951 at Sadler's Wells Theatre, performed by the Sadler's Wells Ballet. The evening was part of the Festival of Britain, and featured four ballets by Cranko. The ballet was a critical success immediately, and became very popular. The company took it on tour to America, and the ballet has also been staged by the Borovansky Ballet (1954), Covent Garden (1959), the National Ballet of Canada (1959), the Joffrey Ballet (1970), Noverre Ballet (1972), and Oslo Ballet (1975). In more recent years the ballet has been taken from the repertoire of most American companies, though it is still performed in the UK by the Birmingham Royal Ballet. In 1959, Pineapple Poll was filmed by the BBC, starring Merle Park, David Blair, Stanley Holden, and artists of the Royal Ballet, with Mackerras conducting the orchestra. Though unfortunately in black and white, it is a wonderful production and was released on DVD in 2011 alongside The Lady and the Fool.

Here's one of the few short scenes I could find from that recording, somewhere in Act I:

Thanks for reading!

- Selene

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