Choreographers: Sir Frederick Ashton, Alexander Whitley, Sir Kenneth MacMillan.
Designer: Anthony Ward, Jean-Marc Puissant, Ian Spurling
Music: Daniel Auber (arranged and orchestrated by Constant Lambert), Phil Kilne, Scott Joplin &others.
Conductors: Philip Ellis and Jonathan Higgins.
Reviewer: Charlotte Broadbent
The Birmingham Royal ballet have selected three completely contrasting pieces for their Northern tour. This is a fantastic way to demonstrate the company’s vast abilities and offer a wide variety of ballet styles to please almost any audience member.
The first piece is Les Rendezvous by Sir Frederick Ashton. Created in 1933 this one act, plotless ballet explores humour, flirtation and the light hearted joy of Summer. Dancers meet across the space and dance together in the park. The ladies, in full 50’s style dresses and gloves while the men wear boater hats and white tights, epitomises a carefree and idyllic summer in England. The set was perhaps a little out of sync with the performance, as the costume and spirit of the dancing suggests a bright summers day, but the set evoked a sleepy dusk with a purple sky and a large orange sun.
Chi Cao was a powerful and dashing male lead whose solo in the variation was the highlight of the piece. Elisha Willis had lightness and grace as the female lead; at times romantic and at times emitting a naïve, youthful joy. While aesthetically pleasant and technically beautiful, the lack of plot does mean it becomes difficult to engage emotionally with the piece.
The second ballet, Kin by contemporary choreographer Alexander Whitley could not be a further departure. Originally choreographed for the company last year, Kin is a frantic eruption of energy. The piece starts with an incredibly slow and controlled crescendo from the cello as the lights swell. The set is blank stone walls and the dancers stand in silhouette like Giacometti statues. The lighting by Peter Teigen is used well throughout, creating strong shadows and brilliant warmth. Though a contemporary piece there is still a lot of the classical technique and again, Elisha Willis provides a powerful solo displaying huge range against her earlier performance. Tzu-Chao Chou stands out in the ensemble and has a powerful solo moment which leaps out from the rest of the ballet.
Some of the more energised moments were almost too frantic to follow and the dancers working in canon created ripples through the space which lead the eye around the stage at a great speed.
The piece incorporates a lot of rise and fall in the movement, though the fall element was perhaps a little weighted and much of the movement was brought down in the solos. However, in the ensemble, energy seemed to be flung out into the space in all directions. The dancing was a little overwhelming to watch but overall Kin is stylistically breathtaking.
The third and final piece is Sir Kenneth MacMillans Elite Syncopations. Choreographed in 1974 Elite syncopations has been delighting audiences for decades and is always a gem. The cyclorama and curtains are pulled back so that the back wall of the theatre serves as the set. With ladders and chairs strewn about the space and the live band on stage in full costume, we are instantly pulled into a dingy but soulful jazz club. The costumes are a feast for the eyes, incorporating circus harlequins and strong men as well as a ringleader and clowns. Set to music by Scott Joplin and other composers of the genre, MacMillan finds real humour and sensitivity in the pieces. The Alaskan Rag pas de deux with Yijing Zhang and James Barton is an absolute treat, both brilliantly funny and faultlessly executed. Yvette Knight is stunning and elegant as the soloist and ringleader character and is complimented in the pas de deux by her partner William Bracewell. A fantastic way to end the evening.
With each piece averaging at 25 minutes and with such a diverse repertoire, this production offers so much. A great show for anyone new to contemporary ballet and of course, for those who are great fans. Performed with poise and heart, certainly worth seeing.
Runs until: 20th May then touring