Director: David Bintley
Choreography: Jessica Lang, José Limón, Frederick Ashton
Reviewer: Peter Jacobs
The Birmingham Royal Ballet present a Shakespeare-themed triple bill of works as part of their own year-long celebration of the 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death. For Manchester and Salford audiences this has the added interest of the company presenting a varied selection of more diverse works than the company usually tour to the twin cities. Crucially, the inclusion of a new work offers the chance to see this classically-rooted company in a new light.
The programme opens with the new, modern work, Wink, based on Shakespeare’s sonnets and choreographed by Jessica Lang. Five sonnets are read by Alfie Jones and blended with music by regular Lang-collaborator Jakub Ciupinski. This is a starkly set piece for ten dancers with designs by Mimi Lien and beautifully modulated lighting by Peter Teigen. The work moves through a number of light and dark themes based on each sonnet, using different combinations of dancers – mixing men and women in a way quite usual for contemporary companies but that seems startling different for this company. The work is linked by dancer Brandon Lawrence, who physically interprets the text of each sonnet in a commanding and effectively strong and sinuous performance. The choreography is essentially classical in nature, made modern with unusual lifts, floor work and gender fluid combinations, without being pushed ‘beyond’ classical in the mode of Wayne McGregor or Michael Clark.
Wink is a polished, diverse and interesting work, even if the company do not seem entirely comfortable in this style, stripped of staging and although far from narrative-free, more abstract and neutral in performance style. It would be interesting to see them develop – or at least tour – further new contemporary work as part of their repertoire.
The Moor’s Pavane by José Limón dates from 1949, but looks startlingly fresh. Taking four characters from Othello and exposing underlying jealousy and intrigue within a formal dance, this is set with no staging but sumptuous jewel-toned Renaissance costumes by Pauline Lawrence and painterly chiaroscuro lighting by Teigen. The Moor’s Pavane demands a high level of acting to clearly communicate the layers of narrative and Tyrone Singleton, Delia Mathews, Iain Mackay and Samara Downs do this with characteristic clarity. The choreography is rich with mid-20th Century classical modernity and the piece is engrossing, richly satisfying and vivid.
Finally, Frederick Ashton’s The Dream, a 1964 one-act ballet that is a fast-paced distillation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set to a delicious Mendelssohn score. This is fully staged with an atmospheric nocturnal forest clearing set by Peter Farmer and exquisite lighting by John B. Read. The storytelling is breakneck but imbued with great clarity and fine acting and characterisation from the large ensemble cast. César Morales is an imposing and otherworldly Oberon. Mathias Dingman’s Puck is winningly impish and cheeky. Kit Holder delivers a delightfully witty Bottom. The choreography is similarly fast-pasted and fluttering and full of technical flourishes. The company looks entirely at home with this thoroughly entertaining and funny piece that retains a sense of freshness and delight.
The Birmingham Royal Ballet is one of the UK’s most reliable and effective classical ballet companies. This programme is a welcome opportunity to see them in a diverse range of work across different classical. The audience seemed noticeably sparser than their usual first night at The Lowry, but if people were put off by the programme then they are missing a treat.
Runs until 17 September 2016 | Image:Andrew Ross