CriticalDance Forum

Birmingham Royal Ballet 2008-9
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Author:  David [ Sat Apr 05, 2008 2:07 am ]
Post subject:  Birmingham Royal Ballet 2008-9

2008-9 repertory

Birmingham Royal Ballet has announced its repertory for the 2008-9 season. Specific performance dates for Birmingham have not yet been released, although the performance weeks are known. Below is a list of everything released to date.

The interesting programmes all come after Christmas. First we have the return of Bintley's "Sylvia", which I understand will be slightly reworked. This is accompanied by a mixed programme that should please everyone - "Serenade", "Enigma" and "Still Life". But it gets even better with the return of Ashton's "Two Pigeons", Balanchine's "Mozartiana" and Bintley's "Galanteries" and "The Dance House".

As seems to be the norm these days the marketing people have found it necessary to tag each mixed programme with a title. Is this really necessary? Surely they are not trying to kid people its a full length or there are links when there patently are not, are they?

More news on dates when it's available.

Here's the list (m=matinee, e=evening)...

Birmingham, Hippodrome
Week commencing 29 September 2008
Beauty and the Beast (ch. Bintley)

Birmingham Hippodrome
Week commencing 6 October 2008
'Russian Steps'
Concerto (ch. MacMillan), The Firebird (ch. Fokine), Raymonda Act III (ch. Petipa, Nureyev)

Plymouth, Theatre Royal
October 15e, 16m, 16e, 17e, 18m, 18e
Beauty and the Beast

Cardiff, Millennium Centre
October 21, 22m, 22e
La Baiser de la fee (ch. Corder), Petrushka (ch. Fokine), The Firebird (ch. Fokine)

Cardiff, Millennium Centre
October 23, 24, 25m, 25e
Beauty and the Beast (ch. Bintley)

Sunderland, Empire
November 12e, 13m, 13e, 14e, 15m, 15e
Beauty and the Beast (ch. Bintley)

Birmingham, Hippodrome
The Nutcracker (prod. Wright, Bintley)
Commences 24 November 2008 (three weeks)

Birmingham, Hippodrome
Sylvia (ch. Bintley)
Week commencing 23 February 2009

Birmingham, Hippodrome
'Pomp and Circumstances'
Serenade (ch. Balanchine), Enigma Variations (ch. Ashton), Still Life at the Penguin Café (ch. Bintley)
Week commencing 2 March 2009

Bimringham Hippdrome
'Sir Fred and Mr B.'
The Two Pigeons (ch. Ashton), Mozartiana (ch. Balanchine)
Week commencing 14 June 2009

Birmingham Hippodrome
'Love and Loss'
Galanteries (ch. Bintley), The Dance House (ch. Bintley), The Dream (ch. Ashton)
Week commencing 21 June 2009

Author:  David [ Wed Apr 16, 2008 5:56 am ]
Post subject:  BRB schedule

Birmingham Royal Ballet schedule - updated

As promised, here are full details of all Birmingham Royal Ballet dates up to the end of the year and Birmingham dates in the first half of 2009, including all the missing detail from above.

Of particular note are two Sunday lunchtime matinees of The Nutcracker.

Further 2008 touring dates to be announced.

m=matinee (midweek at 2.00pm, Saturday at 2.30pm, Sunday at 12.30pm)
e=evening (7.30pm)

Birmingham, Hippodrome
Oct 1e, 2m, 2e, 3e, 4m, 4e: Beauty and the Beast (ch Bintley)
Oct 9m, 9e, 10e, 11m, 11e: Concerto (ch MacMillan), Firebird (ch Fokine), Raymonda Act III (ch. Petipa, Nureyev)

Plymouth, Theatre Royal
Oct 15e, 16m, 16e, 17e, 18m, 18e: Beauty and the Beast

Cardiff, Wales Millennium Centre
Oct 21e, 22m, 22e: Firebird, Baiser de le Fée (ch. Corder), Petrushka (ch. Fokine)
Oct 23e, 24e, 25m, 25e: Beauty and the Beast

London, Sadler’s Wells Theatre
Oct 28e, 29m, 29e, 30e: Beauty and the Beast
Oct 31e, Nov 1m, 1e: Firebird, Baiser de la Fée, Petrushka

Edinburgh, Festival Theatre
Nov 4e, 5m, 5e: Firebird, Baiser de la Fée, Petrushka
Nov 6e, 7e, 8m, 8e: Beauty and the Beast

Sunderland, Empire Theatre
Nov 12e, 13m, 13e, 14e, 15m, 15e: Beauty and the Beast

Birmingham, Hippodrome
Nov 28e, 29m, 29e, 30m, Dec 2m, 2e, 3e, 4m, 4e, 5e, 6m, 6e, 7m, 9m, 9e, 10e, 11m, 11e, 12e, 13m, 13e: The Nutcracker (prod. Wright)

Birmingham, Hippodrome
Feb 25e, 26m, 26e, 27e, 28m, 28e: Sylvia (ch. Bintley)
Mar 4e, 5m, 5e, 6e, 7m, 7e: Serenade (ch. Balanchine), Enigma Variations (ch. Ashton), Still Life at the Penguin Café (ch. Bintley)

Birmingham, Hippodrome
Jun 17e, 18m, 18e, 19e, 20m, 20e: Mozartiana (ch. Balanchine), Two Pigeons (ch. Ashton)
Jun 24e, 25m, 25e, 26e, 27m, 27e: Galanteries (ch. Bintley), Dance House (ch. Bintley), The Dream (ch. Ashton).

Author:  David [ Tue Sep 23, 2008 1:47 am ]
Post subject:  Robert Parker

Robert Parker to rejoin the Company

Robert Parker will be rejoining Birmingham Royal Ballet this autumn.

Having left the company in 2007 to pursue a career as a pilot in the USA, Parker has decided to resume his career as a dancer.

He said, "I have really enjoyed my training in the last year and am proud of what I have managed to achieve - it has been a great adventure with many challenges and I have learned a great deal about myself and my capabilities. However, returning to the UK to dance at Birmingham Royal Ballet's gala for Desmond Kelly, I realised how much I missed performing. It has been a big decision to give up my goal of becoming a professional pilot and re-locate to the UK, but Rachel and I are looking forward to seeing our friends again, and introducing our baby daughter to them all."

Robert Parker joined Birmingham Royal Ballet in 1994, having trained at the Royal Ballet School. He rose swiftly through the ranks, and was promoted to Principal in 1999. He has created leading roles in many of David Bintley's ballets, as well as excelling in works by Balanchine, Ashton and MacMillan, as well as the 19th-century classics.

Author:  David [ Wed Oct 08, 2008 10:04 am ]
Post subject:  Beauty and the Beast

‘Beauty and the Beast’ - Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK. October 1st, 2008

Although originally made and programmed as an alternative to “The Nutcracker”, David Bintley’s “Beauty and the Beast” is far from the jolly Christmas fare that well-worked ballet usually serves up. Now appearing in the autumn schedule, it may be a fairy tale, but like all the best fairy tales it’s more than a children’s story. There is lots of humour and many comic characters, but Bintley has overlaid matters with plenty of dark symbolism.

A prologue tells us that a prince has been turned into a beast for being so cruel, heartless and vain. He is sentenced to live among other animals until he wins the love of a beautiful girl. A merchant takes refuge in the Beast’s sinister castle following a storm. On leaving, he picks a rose, and thus incurs the Beast’s wrath, his life only spared if his beautiful daughter Belle comes to stay with him. With time, she comes to see the person underneath, and like in all good fairy tales, true love breaks the spell.

With its mix of humour, scary moments, good choreography, it’s easy to see why the ballet is popular with all ages. The Beast’s castle is almost Harry Potter-esque and comes complete with candelabra that light themselves, a flagon that rises from the table and fills a goblet without any human or beastly help, and an armchair comes alive to comfort, yet imprison the merchant. And Bintley does lead us neatly and clearly through events, managing to tell the story without overly resorting to mime, or feeling he has to give as what often seems to be the inevitable and sometimes interminable series of divertissements followed by a grand pas de deux.

What the ballet also lacks is much in the way of strong characters. Robert Parker, making his welcome return following his exploration of the possibilities of a career as an airline pilot, and who originally created the role of the Beast, danced and acted powerfully, demonstrating both sides of the Beast’s personality. Best of all was the scene in Act II when he suddenly thinks Belle is not returning, which can only mean his death. But the need for a mask does restrict greatly the possibilities for expression.

Elsewhere, everyone seemed so superficial. Elisha Willis as Belle was as pretty as a porcelain doll and technically fine, but where was the shock or fear when she first encountered the Beast? Surely she would have been a little more surprised when he turned back into the Prince. This may not be entirely Willis’ fault. Belle is, after all, little more than the means by which the Beast returns to humankind, but it would be interesting to see what others might be able to bring to the role.

"Beauty and the Beast" does have its moments. In the wedding scene, Bintley appears to draw on Ashton’s Cinderella, especially in his comic, pantomimic characters. Belle’s feisty sisters did little for me, but Marion Tait’s Grandmère was a delight and even outdid David Morse’s depiction of Belle’s father. Of the ensemble scenes, the birds’ dance at the end of Act I had more than a hint of menace as they swooped around the stage led by Kosuke Yamomoto’s evil looking, almost Rothbart-like raven. And the end is beautifully understated as the curse is lifted, although, again, there was no great sense of joy or any other emotion as one might expect. If Belle recognised the Prince as he guided her through the steps they danced at the ball, she didn’t show it.

The ballet is well-paced, helped along by Glen Buhr’s score, which rolls along, never pausing for a moment to allow us to catch our breath, or come to that applaud. It does lack any sort of stand out moment though. Although the music is full of perfectly listenable to rhythms and compliments the dance well, afterwards you find you actually can’t remember any of it.

Best of all was Philip Prowse’s dark and mysterious set, which opened and closed like a giant children’s fold-out book turned on its end. The mood was added to by Mark Jonathan’s atmospheric lighting, which often gave little more than a frosty glow, focusing only on one part of the stage, leaving the rest of the set lurking suggestively in the gloom. Visually stunning, but sadly, it left you wanting more from the characters.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by Paul Murphy.

Author:  David [ Mon Oct 13, 2008 4:36 am ]
Post subject:  Raymonda, Concerto, Firebird

‘Raymonda Act III’, ‘Concerto’, ‘The Firebird’ - Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham; October 9th, 2008

Highlight of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s autumnal mixed programme was undoubtedly Kenneth MacMillan’s sublime “Concerto”. Originally danced against a grey background, Deborah MacMillan has redesigned the backcloth for this Birmingham Royal Ballet production so that it suggests an opaque window, maybe looking out from a dance studio. For once, a piece of tinkering that works.

“Concerto” has a very neo-classical look about it, so it’s no great surprise that Birmingham Royal Ballet dance it well. But how well! The ballet may be non-narrative, but the slow second movement especially is far from abstract. The story may be elusive, and we may not know quite what the relationship is between the two dancers, but from the moment they appear, then slowly walk towards each other, you just know there is one there. Both Natasha Oughtred and Jamie Bond danced with clarity, precision and a fluidity that only added to the strains of the piano in Shostakovich’s beautiful score. For this section, the backcloth and lighting now suggests a setting sun, which adds to the mood even more. Bond was a strong and reliable partner, especially in the more complicated lifts. The whole pas de deux looked so unforced and natural - always a good sign.

The opening movement was led by Laetitia Lo Sardo and Joseph Caley, while Angela Paul was excellent in the upbeat final movement, leading the soloists as the dashed and leapt energetically and gracefully across the stage. With its colourful yet simple yellow, red and orange costumes, bare stage and clean, uncomplicated lines, at first sight the work is very untypical of MacMillan. But look deeper, especially at that intriguing second movement with its elusive story, and maybe it’s not so far from some of his other shorter works after all.

The programme opened with Act III of Rudoph Nureyev’s production of “Raymonda”. Set in an ornate white and gold Byzantine hall, and danced to Glazunov’s more than listenable to score, it should have been a sparkling starter, but it never quite made the mark. The fact the choreography is highly repetitive with enough cabrioles to last a lifetime doesn’t help. Despite this, there were three excellent solos from Momoko Hirata, Natasha Oughtred and especially Céline Gittens, who was so light and sure. Sadly some of the male partnering seemed rather less than secure. Given this is, after all, supposed to be a wedding, Nao Sakuma, as Raymonda, looked far from her usual sunny self, although César Morales as Jean de Brienne, looks a useful addition to the company.

The evening concluded with Fokine’s “The Firebird”, which as ever went down well with the Birmingham audience, with a feisty Carol-Anne Millar in the leading role.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by Nicholas Kok, with Jonathan Higgins on piano giving a perfect rendition of the Shostakovich in “Concerto”.

Author:  David [ Wed Oct 22, 2008 7:54 am ]
Post subject: 

Extra Spring 2009 dates for Birmingham Royal Ballet as part of the Spring Dance at the London Coliseum season have been announced.

Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 April 2009
‘Pomp and Circumstance’: ‘Serenade’ (ch Balanchine), ‘Enigma Variations’ (ch Ashton), ‘Still Life at the Penguin Café (ch Bintley).

Thursday 16 to Saturday 18 April 2009
‘Sylvia’ (ch Bintley).

Author:  David [ Tue Dec 09, 2008 3:23 am ]
Post subject:  Nutcracker

‘The Nutcracker’ - Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK; December 4, 2008

Every year audiences flock to see Birmingham Royal Ballet’s glorious “Nutcracker”. And why not, because it seems that no matter how many times you see it, it never fails to weave its magical Christmas spell. And although there are any number of productions of the ballet around, this Peter Wright version from 1990 remains the most sumptuous and traditional of them all.

Where the Birmingham production really scores is that it has something for everyone. While there is plenty to keep the youngsters amused and enthralled, the ballet also has a darker side. After the guests have left the Stahlbaum’s house party, Clara, described as a fifteen-year old ballet student, and always danced here by a member of the company, returns to collect her Nutcracker doll. But the once happy and noisy lounge now seems strangely eerie. The mood is added to as a chair by the fireplace seemingly turns by itself, revealing Drosselmeyer, no longer smiling and laughing, but serious and foreboding.

The move from reality to make-believe is so smooth you almost don’t realise it is happening. The transformation scene that follows has to be the best ever. The Christmas tree doesn’t just grow. It seems to engulf the whole stage. Giant rats appear through the now enormous fireplace and do serious battle with the soldiers. Of course the mood does lighten after the battle as Clara meets her prince and is taken on her fabulous journey.

While artistic director David Bintley has never shied away from giving principal roles to soloists, the long Nutcracker season gives him much more scope to do so. In this performance, Laëtitia Lo Sardo was a delightful Clara, who looked genuinely excited and happy throughout. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a happier Clara. And she had good reason. Kosuke Yamomoto may not be the tallest of dancers, but he looked every inch her perfect prince. Clara’s delight continued throughout Act II, as she joined in with many of the divertissements with great enthusiasm. Special mention should go here to Andrea Tredinnick and her consorts in the Arabian Dance; they were quite sublime.

An oddity about “The Nutcracker” is that we don’t get to see the leading ballerina until towards the end. The wait was worth it. The delicate Momoko Hirata was every inch the fairy princess, with the precision and technique to match. There were a couple of heart-in-mouth moments on the lifts, which was odd as Yamomoto had earlier looked very solid indeed, but on the whole they made an excellent couple.

And so Clara awakes, alone once more with just her Nutcracker doll for company. The spell weaved over the ballet and the audience is broken as we all return to reality. But the feel good factor remained. Now it really does start to feel like Christmas.
The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was directed by guest conductor Koen Kessels, from Belgium.

Author:  David [ Mon Mar 02, 2009 2:55 am ]
Post subject: 

Birmingham Royal Ballet - ‘Sylvia’
Birmingham Hippodrome; February 25, 2009.

Seeing a large part of the audience reaching for their programme notes at the first interval to try and figure out what is going on is rarely a good sign. It is also quite unusual in Birmingham, for David Bintley is generally such a good storyteller.

In this, his second attempt at “Sylvia”, Bintley has retained much of the choreography from the original. But, as if the narrative is not confused and convoluted enough already, he has added a framing story intended to tighten up the work, give the characters more depth, and provide a link between the ‘real’ people on stage and the audience. Unfortunately, many problems remain.

Bintley’s additions are set in 1950s Italy. Count Guiccioli and his Contessa (Orion and Diana) are celebrating their wedding anniversary, or at least making the pretence of doing so. The Count is rather more interested in his children’s governess (Sylvia) though, who he tries to seduce. This endangers the love between her and the Count’s valet (Amynta). Eros, disguised as a gardener, makes it his business to put the world to rights, and so takes the lovers on a journey to teach them a lesson about love. Other minor characters such as Gilberto (Gog) and Giorgio (Magog) also appear in both tales.

While the dancing occasionally boosted proceedings, “Sylvia” seems to be a ballet still in search of its heart. Nao Sakuma as Sylvia did her best to lift things, but much of the evening was strangely flat. Large parts of the opening two acts are unmemorable. The story does not help, but neither does some of the characterisation, which at times relies too much on stereotypes. Even Bintley’s humour sometimes fails. His dance for the wooden-legged pirate captain is full of invention and quite funny, but that for the drunken Gog and Magog, was dreadfully over the top and dated. It may have been a reference to the goons in “Prodigal Son,” although for some of the audience it owed more to the music hall silly walks of Max Wall’s Professor Wallofski. Whichever, it was out of place in this context.

The ballet does come alive at times. Perhaps significantly, these are almost all when the story is almost forgotten and Bintley takes his lead much more from Délibes sometimes stirring, sometimes beautiful score. Among the best are the two large corps dances for Diana (Elisha Willis) and her followers, done with lots of attack and more than a hint of “Spartacus”, and the main pas de deux for Sylvia and Amynta in Act III, which starts slowly but builds and builds to an impressive series of leaps, lifts and turns, all carried off with great precision by Sakuma and Chi Cao. Elsewhere, Robert Parker was a suitably lecherous Orion, crashing around the stage with impressive vigour, while Alexander Campbell with his knowing looks and glances at the audience was the perfect Eros, nicely understated but always in control.

Délibes bright and breezy score, with additions from “La Source” was played with zest by The Royal Ballet Sinfonia under the direction of Paul Murphy.
“Sylvia” continues on tour to Sunderland, Plymouth, Salford and London. See for details.

Author:  David [ Mon Mar 02, 2009 3:03 am ]
Post subject: 

Alain Dubreuil leaves Birmingham Royal Ballet

I only spotted this when someone pointed out his omission from the programme, but Alain Dubreuil, Ballet Master (a post he had held since 1990) at Birmingham Royal Ballet has left the company after 35 years service.

A statement on the company website says no more than that he has left to "pursue new challenges."

During a long and distinguished career, Dubreuil danced with London Festival Ballet, before transferring to The Royal Ballet Companies in 1973. His partners included Margot Fonteyn and Galina Samsova, and he also worked with Rudolf Nureyev, dancing in productions of Romeo and Juliet and The Sleeping Beauty. His greatest role was often considered to be Albrecht in Giselle.

Author:  Cassandra [ Mon Apr 20, 2009 11:14 am ]
Post subject:  Sylvia

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Coliseum, London
16th April 2009

Apart from the production I saw last night I’ve only seen two other versions of Delibe’s Sylvia, those of Ashton and Neumeier, and it has always struck me as odd that other choreographers haven’t been inspired to use such a glorious full length score. Of course the subject matter is daunting as story lines featuring ancient gods and goddesses aren’t exactly in vogue with modern audiences. Ashton, creating his ballet over fifty years ago had a more traditionally minded audience to please and chose to create a kind of homage to the Belle Époque; Neumeier chose a far more modern approach and created a modern dress version. David Bintley has opted for an approach that embraces both concepts beginning in modern dress and then regressing in time to some dream like state that doesn’t belong to any particular era. I’m not sure that this works very well but if Bintley has a flaw in his productions it has always been that he adds layers of unnecessary detail and in narrative works has always had a tendency to complicate the plot.

The Ballet opens with a formal party hosted by a Count and Countess with a bunch of clichéd guests including an embarrassingly camp pair of interior decorators. The couple’s valet and governess are in love with one another but the Count is making unwanted advances to the governess, a situation that put me very much in mind of The Marriage of Figaro. The couple also employ a rather up market type of gardener who is actually the god Eros in disguise, though his costume and manner put me uncomfortably in mind of Gustav von Aschenbach in Death in Venice. Eros feels a spot of re-education in the art of love is in order and everyone is transported back in time and allotted a new identity. The governess becomes Sylvia and her mistress the Countess is the goddess Diana; the valet becomes Amynta and the Count becomes the hunter Orion. From then on the story takes it’s more familiar form with Amynta falling for Sylvia and being blinded by Diana for catching her nymphs off guard whilst Sylvia is kidnapped first by Orion and then by pirates before everything is put right by Eros.

If I have some reservations concerning the production I have almost none about the dancing as Bintley has served his dancers well with choreography that both stretches them and brings out the best of their abilities. For me the highlights were the dances for Diana and her athletic nymphs and the melting duets of Sylvia and Amynta. Elisha Willis was both an assertive Diana and a vulnerable Countess, playing characters with personalities at opposite ends of the spectrum with considerable acting skill and was totally convincing in both roles. Sylvia herself was Nao Sakuma, looking rather like a little Audrey Hepburn in her grey suit and pill box hat as a governess but transformed into an altogether more alluring creature as Sylvia. Watching Sakuma dance is always a pleasurable experience, soft and musical and a happy reminder that in Birmingham at least the Royal Ballet’s ‘English Style’ still manages to survive.

Although the girls grab the attention in this work Bintley has created rewarding choreography for the three leading male dancers too: the role of Amynta, danced by Chi Cao, suffers from the constraints of the libretto requiring the hero to spend much of his time blindly groping about the stage, when he finally gets to dance, he shows off his virtuosity in some of Bintley’s most finely crafted choreography. Orion the hunter is played by Robert Parker looking rather sexy in a George of the Jungle sort of way, draped in an animal skin and a sporting a long mane of hair. Sylvia escapes his admittedly rather attractive clutches by plying him with freshly trod wine, miraculously produced without fermentation. His presumption in trying it on with one of Diana’s virgins is punished in a wonderful coup de théâtre when in a flash of lightning he is revealed trapped beneath the hooves of Diana’s horse. As Eros the gardener Alexander Campbell walks around looking enigmatic and then is miraculously transformed into a completely anachronistic Long John Silver complete with a peg leg (though sadly not a parrot) to dance a one of those comedy numbers that Bintley is so fond of. His strapped up foot protrudes at the back rather like a prehensile tail which he wriggles comically at the audience: totally absurd but totally hilarious.

Sylvia was the ballet performed on the night the Opera Garnier first opened its sumptuous doors to the public and at one time just about every choreographer of note (including Ivanov) produced a ballet to Delibes ravishing music. Not today of course, so I’m very grateful that David Bintley drew inspiration from that score and if his Sylvia is a little confused in places, it ultimately doesn’t matter because the feast of dancing he provides us with is a delight from start to finish.

Author:  Stuart Sweeney [ Thu May 07, 2009 10:11 am ]
Post subject: 

Birmingham Royal Ballet, “Serenade”, Enigma Variations”, “'Still Life' at the Penguin Café ”
London Coliseum, 14th April 2009

It was good to see this BRB mixed bill at the Coliseum. But it's usually good to see dance at the Coli, as the sight-lines are excellent and it vies with Sadler's Wells as the best venue for dance in London. If only the Royal Ballet could perform there, as The Royal Opera House is entirely the wrong shape for ballet – the designers intended it as a place to be seen rather than to see.

The current BRB programme has three 20th C ballets in marked contrast. The five stop tour stretched from Sunderland in the North-East to Plymouth in the South-West and for many audiences it may well have been the first time they had seen Balanchine's ravishing “Serenade” on-stage. But for London, this was a brave move by the company, as we have seen some of the most prestigious companies in the world perform the work here. The opening ensemble sections provided much pleasure as the corps essayed the ever-changing patterns with fine synchronisation. And there was more enjoyment to be had from some of the individual performances: Momoko Hirota's exuberant, quick steps and the sensual elegance of César Morales. However, at the heart of the ballet is the role of the “late girl”, and Elisha Willis was merely competent, with little beauty in her movement. and a stiff back, perhaps from nerves in the largest theatre in London. A shame, as this resulted in a an enjoyable performance , rather than a great one.

BRB has made Ashton's “Enigma Variations” a signature work and as always there was much to savour in this series of vignettes depicting Elgar's friends; the helpful programme notes mentioned that the composer's daughter told Ashton that “they were exactly like that”. The ballet celebrates friendship, especially in the relation between the composer and A.J.Jaeger, his publisher, who sustains the melancholy genius through a difficult period. Elgar's marriage is portrayed without a hint of sentimentality and shows a certain distance between the couple, perhaps stemming from the composer's doubts about his career.. Victoria Marr as his wife conveys her deep love and makes the most of her steps. And then there is the humour and exuberance of several of the male friends - Robert Parker enjoys himself as the brusque Arthur Troyte Griffith. This is a case where a happy ending doesn't spoil the show when Elgar receives a telegram from Hans Richter agreeing to conduct the Variations.

“'Still Life' at the Penguin Café”, with a by turns playful and moving minimalist score by Simon Jeffes, celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and David Bintley's ballet makes telling points about endangered species ranging from species of flea and zebra through to a rain forest family. Some of it works very well: Chi Cao brilliantly articulates the dance for the Southern Cape Zebra, combining distinctive, proud movement, ranged against a group of socialites dressed to the nines in zebra garb who care nothing for the animal's death; Carol-Anne Miller as the Humboldt's Hog-nosed Skunk Flea skips happily about with a team of Morris Men – Bintley was, I believe, a member of the Royal Ballet School Morris dance group; the costumes and sets are delightful. Not all the choreography works, however, especially the Texan Kangaroo Rat, a drab and uneventful solo – even the dancer looked bored. Overall, the ballet probably looked more radical 20 years ago than it does now, but there is still plenty of fun to be had. For “Penguin” and indeed throughout the evening, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia (despite the title, BRB's in-house orchestra) played to the high standard we have to come to expect from what many consider the UK's foremost ballet orchestra.

Author:  LMCtech [ Thu May 07, 2009 11:57 am ]
Post subject: 

Thanks Stuart! Good to hear what's going on across the pond.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Jun 29, 2009 1:58 pm ]
Post subject: 

Clement Crisp had a wonderful time at a double bill of Balanchine's "Mozartiana" and Ashton's "Two Pigeons." His review of a June 18, 2009 afternoon performance in Brum for The Financial Times:

Financial Times

Author:  David [ Tue Jun 30, 2009 8:12 am ]
Post subject:  Mozartiana / The Two Pigeons

Mozartiana, The Two Pigeons
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK; June 17, 2009

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 South-west 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 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!

Author:  David [ Tue Jun 30, 2009 8:16 am ]
Post subject:  Galanteries / The Dance House / The Dream

Galanteries, The Dance House, The Dream
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK; June 24, 2009

George Balanchine said 12 was the best number for a ballet, because it could be divided so many ways. In “Galanteries”, a plotless ballet from 1986, Bintley certainly does that, presenting his cast of 12 in a series of delightful trios, duets and solos. The elegant, soft, almost silver-grey tunics of the men, similar coloured flowing skirts of the women add to the grace and style of the work. The whole company were exemplary, but it was Delia Matthews and Tom Rogers who really stood out in the gloriously lyrical central duet.

The only question is why has Bintley kept “Galanteries” so hidden away? It is 25 minutes of beautifully constructed dance that fuses perfectly with interleaved selections from two Mozart works, the choreography reflecting the symmetry and phrasing of the music. Mozart’s divertimentos were originally composed as entertainment for the rich. And this ballet certainly entertains.

Second up was “The Dance House”, commissioned from Bintley in 1994 by San Francisco Ballet. Inspired by the death of his close friend Nicholas Millington from an AIDS-related disease, it is a modern day dance of death. But although there are plenty of clues, including the blood red vertical stripes that dominate the front of many of the costumes, designed by the late Robert Heindel, a noted painter of dancers, and the figure of death that stalks through the whole work, it never reaches any great emotional heights.

Having said that, Bintley again shows just how good he is at putting steps to music, this time “Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.1”. Natasha Oughtred has truly blossomed since arriving in Birmingham in 2007. She and her partner Matthew Lawrence were supremely fluid and lyrical in the almost elegiac central duet, and contrasted with the shocking energy of Kosuke Yamomoto in the ‘stripey’ solo.

As enjoyable and well-danced as these two ballets were, it seemed the whole audience was waiting for Frederick Ashton’s “The Dream”. They were not disappointed and lapped up Ashton’s simplified but entertaining version of Shakespeare’s hugely complicated plot involving misused potions, mixed-up lovers, and everyone’s favourite, Titania, queen of the fairies, falling in love with a donkey.

In many ways the ballet is pure Victoriana, with manners and gentle humour to match. From Robert Parker’s gloriously silly Demetrius, through James Grundy’s charming and innocent Bottom complete with donkey’s head and pointe shoes, to Matthew Lawrence’s Oberon and Nao Sakuma’s Titania, the company swept all before them. Best of all though was Alexander Campbell as Puck. High-spirited, he bounded around the stage with a mischievous glint in his eye. Of course, everything and everyone are eventually put back their place, and all is right with the world. The perfect end to a hugely enjoyable evening.

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