A Valentine’s Celebration of Music and Dance – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: James Garrington

Conductor: Paul Murphy

It’s Valentine’s day and for those wanting a romantic evening out, the Birmingham Royal Ballet can provide just the thing you’re looking for – particularly if you prefer to get your dancing with a bit of variety and in bite-size chunks.

A Valentine’s Celebration of Music and Dance provides pretty much what the title says – a well-judged mix of music and dance, both classical and modern, all with a romantic theme.

We kick off with Gershwin’s overture to Girl Crazy – not particularly well-known as a stage show but it contains many well-loved Gershwin standards that pop up in the overture, and which found a new audience in 1992 when it was rewritten and given a new title, Crazy for You. Gershwin’s lush melodies provide a fitting start to the evening, played here by the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Paul Murphy.

On to the dancing, and a beautifully executed Swan Lake pas de deux before we move on to Prokofiev’s Cinderella, and a late change to the programme as Miki Mizutani and Tyrone Singleton step in to perform the Act 2 pas de deux, complete with one of the most stunning lifts you’re likely to see on the Symphony Hall stage. The Birmingham Royal Ballet has brought out their top team for the evening, and it certainly shows.

Moving on via a selection from Oklahoma! we finish the first half with possibly the most romantic pas de deux ever, a scene of reconciliation from Ashton’s interpretation of Messager’s The Two Pigeons Everyone will be familiar with the swan’s movements in Swan Lake, and here we have a similar theme with the bird-like steps of the dancers. It’s complete with a pair of live pigeons symbolising their love and is an absolutely gorgeous delight before the interval.

There are more treats in store for after the break, not least a new piece put together by company member Kit Holder. It is inspired by the poem It is Here by Pinter and set to the beautiful second movement of Grieg’s Piano Concerto, played by Jonathan Higgins with the Sinfonia. A piece for six dancers, it is well-conceived and beautifully delivered and serves as a reminder that love exists in many forms, not just between a man and a woman.

Alongside the dancing, there’s the music – and the wonderful acoustics of Symphony Hall really serve to showcase the skill of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. It’s a real delight to hear and appreciate just how good a lot of this music is, whether it’s the full-on Oklahoma! or the beautiful waltzes of Lehar’s Merry Widow. Although their primary role is to work with the dances, the Sinfonia is itself a top orchestra with top-class musicians, and it sounds superb in its own right.

The evening finishes with the flirty and playful Grand Pas de Deux from the Minkus/Petipa Don Quixote, providing an appropriate end to a romantic celebration Valentine’s Day. Overall, it’s a well-judged mix of music and dance, of pieces old and new, and something that has wider appeal than just the ballet-lovers.

It would be nice to hear a little more from compere Nick Owen, a little more history or anecdote about the pieces though it doesn’t really detract from an enjoyable evening. As Birmingham Royal Ballet’s new director Carlos Acosta reminds us, as he shares his thoughts and aspirations, you don’t need to travel to any of the grand European opera houses to see good ballet. We have a world-class ballet company and facilities right here in Birmingham. Watching them perform and hearing the beautiful orchestra in the purpose-built surroundings of Symphony Hall, it’s hard to disagree.

Reviewed on 14 February 2020

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A Valentine's Treat

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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