BalletDanceNorth East & YorkshireReview

Birmingham Royal Ballet: Triple Bill – Theatre Royal, York

Choreography: Kenneth MacMillan/Hans van Manen/John Cranko

Design: Desmond Heeley/Jean-Paul Vroom/Osbert Lancaster

Reviewer: Ron Simpson

Birmingham Royal Ballet is currently touring two different triple bills on short “North” and “South” tours. Audiences in Cornwall have two new ballets on the bill, but nothing in the North programme is later than 1977 and two of the ballets are classic one-acters from the 1950’s. So are we in the North being denied exposure to cutting-edge developments in ballet or getting the better of the deal in a diverse – and predictably entertaining – programme? The full house at the Theatre Royal would suggest that the people of York are quite happy with the arrangement.

The final work on the programme, much the longest of the three, Pineapple Poll is the most English of ballets, despite being choreographed by the South African John Cranko to music arranged by the Australian-American Charles Mackerras. The original music is from Gilbert and Sullivan operas, the story is adapted from one of Gilbert’s Bab Ballads, designs are by the great English humourist/cartoonist Osbert Lancaster and the ballet was one of the hits of Festival of Britain year in 1951. The story, as silly but not as complicated as one of Gilbert’s opera plots, involves Pineapple Poll, a bumboat woman (a profession known to all lovers of H.M.S Pinafore) falling in love with the dashing Captain Belaye, smuggling herself on board the HMS Hot Cross Bun and eventually settling for his successor as captain when Belaye is promoted to admiral. 

Cranko’s choreography, in Lancaster’s witty seaport and poop-deck settings, combines classical ballet with robust nautical hornpipes and touches of broad slapstick. Captain Belaye’s first solo, adding classical virtuosity to the jauntiness of a hornpipe, is carried off with aplomb by Mathias Dingman, throughout splendidly self-regarding as the much-admired Captain. Nao Sakuma’s Poll, affectingly graceful when required, has the right mischievous sense of comedy for the role, a sort of Lucille Ball en pointe. Laura Day and Laura Purkiss are delightful as Belaye’s fiancée and her meddlesome aunt, a danger to shipping with her umbrella. The attack and energy of the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Philip Ellis help to give the piece an infectious momentum that belies its 66-year-old origins.

Kenneth MacMillan’s Solitaire, first performed at Covent Garden in 1956, is both more formal and more whimsical than Pineapple Poll, but it has elements in common: a certain playfulness, the use of elements outside classical ballet, in this case, the hints of folk music in Malcolm Arnold’s English Dances. A solitary girl joins in the dances and games of some young companions (real? imaginary?) while still remaining essentially an outsider. Arancha Baselga conveys the potential for melancholy in her opening dance, but this is a much more spirited affair than its title suggests – helped by another poised and witty cameo from Laura Day.

In an interesting piece of programming, the central piece, 5 Tangos, is a total contrast to the very English charm and fun of the opening and closing ballets. Hans van Manen’s setting of the music of the Argentinian master of tango, Astor Piazzolla, premiered in Amsterdam in 1977, has, for the most part, a brooding intensity or a dream-like sensuality. 14 dancers, seven of each sex, grouped in many different combinations, are headed by Jenna Roberts and Mathias Dingman who contributes a virtuosic solo to Vayamos al diable, rather different in tone to Captain Belaye!

Reviewed on 12 May 2017 | Image: Contributed

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