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Birmingham Royal Ballet

‘The Seasons’, ‘Carmina Burana’ and 'Sleeping Beauty'

by David Mead

February 22 and 28, 2006 -- Birmingham Hippodrome, Birmingham, England

When David Bintley made “The Seasons”, he made it clear that while he aimed to evoke the seasonal associations of the music, his prime intention was to show off the talent of the company’s dancers.

The structure of the ballet certainly helps. Essentially it is four pas de deux, one for each season in turn, starting with Winter, with the corps filling in the linking music. In some ways, it bears resemblance to some Balanchine works as Bintley concentrates on designing and constructing shapes and patterns with the dancers, succeeding in making very complicated steps look very simple.

Winter, danced here by Laetitia Lo Sardo, Carol-Anne Millar and Kosuke Yamamoto is perhaps the sparkiest of the seasons, as if the dancers need to keep warm in the cold. Spring is most lilting, Nao Sakuma’s softness being ideal for the role. The third section seems not just like summer, but like midday in some hot country. Southern Italy came to mind, perhaps suggested by Verdi’s music (a Siciliano) and by the fact it was being danced by BRB’s new Italian principal Letizia Giuliani accompanied by Iain Mackay. Having said that, Giuliani gives the impression she would be more at home in something a little more upbeat and sparky. It will be interesting to see her in some upcoming Balanchine ballets. Autumn perks things up again before the grand finale.

Apart from the Verdi, the atmosphere is helped enormously by Jean-Marc Puissant’s glorious costumes, especially the ladies’ tutus -- silver-grey, aqua-blue, cornfield yellow and autumnal brown in turn.

“Carmina Burana”, made in 1996, was Bintley’s first work as artistic director of BRB. Many consider it to be one of his best, full of power and incredibly strong imagery, helped of course by Carl Orff’s wonderfully stirring music and Philip Prowse’s magnificent designs, which at times are full of huge crosses, lurid lights and costumes, but at others are so simple, maybe a reflection of the innocence the central characters are about to lose.

“Carmina” is essentially three stories linked by the theme of temptation. Silvia Jimenez made it absolutely clear from the first minute that it is she, Fortuna, Empress of the World, who is in charge here. The three seminarians, the central figures in each, were stunningly danced by Yamamoto, Robert Parker and Mackay respectively. Yamamoto brought a wonderful innocence to the role of the naïve boy, while Parker brought amazing energy to his opening solo as Boiling Rage.

As ever though, it was The Court of Love that provided the highlight. It is only here that a seminarian gets to meet Fortuna. And Fortuna certainly shows who is in charge as she leads him on, tempting him to strip off his clothes, and in doing so his religion. They dance a beautiful duet as he falls in love with his siren, only to be cast off in a really spine tingling moment like some toy, as she reasserts her authority and dominance.

This was a wonderful programme that really did show BRB its best. The classicism of “Seasons” may have been designed to show off the company’s dancers, but the surging power and theatricality of “Carmina” shows their sheer energy and enthusiasm.

“The Seasons” and “Carmina Burana” continue on tour to Plymouth.

The second week of BRB’s Birmingham season saw the welcome return of Sir Peter Wright’s production of “The Sleeping Beauty”. Prowse’s glorious design certainly makes it a sumptuous affair. There’s not exactly a great deal of story to the ballet, which means that when we do get some dancing in amongst all that laboured miming, it is even more important that it’s top notch. “Sleeping Beauty” is about the dance, and unlike in some other works, lapses cannot be covered by the characters’ emotions or the narrative.

Sakuma and Chi Cao as Prince Florimund and Princess Aurora danced their roles competently, although Sakuma seemed a little less assured that usual, and rather soft and lacking attack. Aurora is not an easy role, but perhaps this is also a sign of the high standards BRB audiences have come to expect from this talented dancer.

You couldn’t help feeling that a certain something was missing though. There seemed to be no chemistry and no spark between them. Anyone would have thought this was some sort of arranged marriage and Aurora really didn’t want to be there. At the wedding celebrations, it seemed as if many of the guests felt the same. I know they’ve seen it all before, many times before, but some of them really did look like they would rather be anywhere but there.

“Sleeping Beauty” needs magic, and here it was provided by the supporting roles and in the divertissements. Most notable were Ambra Vallo and Yamamoto, who really has the most amazingly soft landings, in the Bluebird pas de deux. Here was that attack and precision we were looking for -- they really flew! Good marks too for Millar, Angela Paul, James Grundy and Steven Monteith in the pas de quatre. The scene-stealer however, as ever, was Marion Tait’s wonderfully evil Carabosse.  Whenever she swept on the stage, everything seemed to ratchet up a few notches. Quality indeed.

“The Sleeping Beauty” continues on tour to Plymouth, Sunderland and Oxford.

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