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Birmingham Royal Ballet

'Hobson's Choice'

by Ana Abad-Carles

October 27, 2005 -- Sadler's Wells, London

“Hobson’s Choice” was created by David Bintley in 1989 as a homage to Dame Ninette de Valois for the then Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet. It was an English ballet from beginning to end in story, music, design and, of course, choreography. I was lucky to see the work when it was first premiered and I remembered it fondly, mainly due to the outstanding performance of its opening cast. Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet was at the time a company that excelled in dramatic ballets thanks to the unfailing stage presence and dramatic qualities of its principals and soloists.

One of the things that surprised me when looking at the program is how young the company is at present. This of course has both good and bad implications. A young company has freshness in their approach to their work, and that is always a welcome quality. However, it also has side effects, such as the loss of reference points that can help provide more mature interpretations, as well as role models for the younger generation to follow.

BRB gave “Hobson’s Choice” freshness without any doubt. The audience loved it and the ballet flowed effortlessly thanks to its theatricality and humor. However, I could not help missing some of the original performers of the work, not because of some sort of nostalgia attack, but because they filled their roles with more faceted interpretations and therefore provided the work with more substantial characterizations.

Robert Parker as Will Mossop had the youth and the technical accomplishment that the choreography required. However, he was just a little too accomplished and irresistibly charming from the beginning to make his transition from shy and apparently dumb bootmaker to brilliant entrepreneur work effectively.

Isabelle McMeekan was a good and determined Maggie Hobson. She showed a command of the role and an understanding of Maggie’s character that was very powerful and made the audience sympathize with her immediately.

David Morse had the maturity and stage presence to make Henry Hobson’s character at times both funny and touching.

The rest of the cast sailed through the choreography quite effortlessly, especially Carol-Anne Miller as Vickey Hobson and Jonathan Payn as Albert Prosser. The entrance of Marion Tait as Mrs.Hepworth was a lesson in stage presence and perfect character interpretation.

As for the choreography, it is effortless and musical. The Salvation Army number provides the ballet with an interesting twist in humor and inventiveness and the dancers obviously enjoyed the steps assigned to them. The pas de deux however, suffered from constant interruptions as the dancers are required to stop dancing and start miming. I have never understood the need for this narrative device within the framework of a pas de deux and it becomes frustrating to see the choreographic climax of the duet being substituted by unnecessary passages of mime. But that may well be my personal taste.

Overall, it was a very good performance and, as I said before, the audience really loved the work, which it must be said, had survived the passing of time in very good condition.

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