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Birmingham Royal Ballet

A Celebration: 'Dumbarton Oaks', 'Duo Concertant', 'Scènes de Ballet', 'The Rite of Spring'

by David

June 8, 2005 -- Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England

The most eagerly awaited work of the evening was the first performance by a British company of Millicent Hodson and Kenneth Archer’s reconstruction of Nijinsky’s original "Rite of Spring", based on the spring rituals of the ancestral peoples of north-east Europe. People can debate just how close to the original it might be, and it’s probably as near as anyone is going to get, but what matters is that it works as a spectacle even if choreographically it is perhaps not the masterpiece many would like us to believe.

The Birmingham Royal Ballet ’s dancers certainly looked at home with the required exaggerated, turned-in, strained posture. They gave their all and the energy came in abundance, especially in Act I as the young girls flirt and attract the men, who in turn chase them and fight. Act II however works less well. The dance in which the girls weave in and out of a circle until one, the victim, is selected, seems to go on forever. The energy did return however when the Chosen One (Molly Smolen) began the wild leaping, spinning and falling of the ritual tests that leads to her final denouement.

Archer’s costume reconstructions from Russian painter Nicholas Roerich’s designs are a feast for the eyes. The maidens in their vividly patterned scarlet smocks, the young women in blue and white and the older ones in mauve and white are a riot of colour.

"Rite" was preceded by Ashton’s "Scènes de Ballet", about as far away in style and look as it is possible to get. This was his homage to Petipa, full of symmetry and patterns, yet occasionally daring to be different as when the corps frames the principals but facing away from them. It is very complex, full of intricacies and beautifully crafted. BRB carried it off superbly, led by Robert Parker and the ever delightful Nao Sakuma.

Balanchine once described "Duo Concertant" as “nothing very unusual” but who else would have dared to open a ballet with two dancers simply standing, listening intently to the music being played by an onstage pianist and violinist. Unfortunately, it was a little disappointing. Standing still must be one of the hardest tasks asked of a dancer on stage and Asta Bazeviciùte and Iain Mackay certainly looked far from comfortable, staring ahead, rarely taking note of what was happening around them. It was only when they began to dance that they seemed to relax, acknowledge the music and each other. The opening dance was not as crisp and sharp as it should have been, but, then, as the choreography became freer and the interaction between the two more spontaneous, things improved enormously. By the time we reached the lively Gigue and the final emotional, spotlighted scene, they seemed quite at home.

The evening opened with Dumbarton Oaks, company soloist Michael Kopinsky’s first work for the main company although he has made others as part of various choreographic projects. Asked to choreograph to the score by David Bintley, he felt that the music conjured up images of moths and their self-destructive urge to fly towards the light and used this as his stimulus for his movement ideas.

The ballet is a mix of bare-foot contemporary dance -- what might almost be termed post-Balanchine classical ballet on pointe. Kopinsky says that music has always provided the impetus for his creativity and he seems at his best when the choreography really does reflect what we are hearing, notably at the beginning and end of the central pas de deux, danced here by Elisha Willis and Robert Parker. It is when he switches from contemporary to classical and back again that things sometimes jar. Kopinsky certainly shows promise though and Bintley deserves great credit for not being afraid to expose such a young choreographer to such a large audience.

This celebration of Stravinsky was the Birmingham Royal Ballet'’s first contribution to a project by Birmingham arts organisations to perform all of his works over a three-year period. It was certainly a varied programme and one that would have left most theatregoers satisfied and with plenty to talk about.


A second viewing of the programme later in the week saw the lead couples switched for "Duo Concertan"t and "Dumbarton Oaks". Both were much improved on the first night.

"Dumbarton Oaks", led by Asta Bazeviciùte and Iain Mackay but with a different corps, too, seemed to flow much more smoothly. Bazeviciùte and Mackay were excellent but mention must also be made of Tyrone Singleton who appears very precise in his movement and has a presence on stage. He could be one to watch for the future.

"Duo Concertant" could almost have been a different ballet. Elisha Willis and Robert Parker were quite superb. Both not only looked happy from the very beginning, but were obviously comfortable with the crispness of movement, the music, musicians and each other. From their dancing, quite playful at times, and their facial expressions it was quite clear they were having a good time, and so were we.


Edited by Staff.

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