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Birmingham Royal Ballet

'Mozartiana' and 'The Two Pigeons'

by David Mead

June 17, 2009 -- Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK

If there is one company in England that really understands Balanchine ballets and how they should be danced, it is David Bintley’s Birmingham Royal Ballet.  Yet, Balanchine’s “Mozartiana” failed to hit the heights.  It was not the company’s fault though.  It is one of those works that had deep meaning for its maker and original lead, Suzanne Farrell.  She once remarked of the ballet, “It’s what heaven must be like.”  I wouldn’t go that far, but I can understand that it must have felt quite spiritual to her.  It is not the fault of today’s dancers that much of that feeling has been lost.  Balanchine completed the ballet just two years before his death, and it shares the same mournful feel as many of his other later works.  The mood is only added to by the black drapes that frame the stage and the largely black, although admittedly beautiful, costumes.

The ballet was well danced, although Elisha Willis was uninspiring in the central Farrell role.  Momoko Hirata had danced this on the company’s recent tour of the Southwest and was rather more alluring.  Joseph Caley was charming as the danseur.  Jonathan Caguioa gave a spirited performance in the gigue, the one true highlight of what is a mostly one-paced, and I’m afraid, generally forgettable ballet.

Willis gave us so much more in the second ballet of the evening, Frederick Ashton’s perennial favourite, “The Two Pigeons”.  It is a simple story -- the best ones always are.  An artist is trying to paint a portrait of his young girlfriend.  She prefers to fool around.  But then gypsies arrive and he falls for a gypsy girl and follows her to their camp.  Before long he realises this is a mistake, as he is tied up and roughed up, and his true love is back home, waiting.

In typical Ashton style, “Two Pigeons” is sweet and engaging rather than emotionally heavy.  Nao Sakuma was delightful as The Young Girl, full of fun and innocence as she teased and played with her artist boyfriend.  Great comic timing too!  She just doesn’t realise how irritated and annoyed he is getting.  Not that Chi Cao let much on.  He was as technically assured as ever, but subtlety, emotion and feeling are not his best points.

The gypsies were suitably wild and colourful, although I wonder whether gypsy dance contains quite as much bosom and shoulder shaking as Ashton seemed to think.  Willis certainly gave it her all.  It was no surprise The Young Man was smitten.  The gypsy men were suitably swarthy.  I’ll swear Bintley had told them not to shave.  Dominic Antonucci, recently appointed the company’s new Ballet Master, was powerful as Willis’ lover.  His presence on stage is going to be missed.

As so to the all too brief final pas de deux.  Sakuma and Cao were as light and lyrical as could be.  But of course, everyone is waiting for the real stars of the show, the two pigeons, to make their appearance.  They sometimes get it wrong, but that is all part of the fun.  At this performance they behaved perfectly, the second flying in to join his mate in a mirror of the lovers’ reconciliation.  Captivating!

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