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Birmingham Royal Ballet

Stravinsky Triple Bill - 'Apollo', 'Pulcinella', 'Firebird'

by Ana Abad-Carles

October 24, 2006 -- Sadler's Wells, London

As part of their annual visit to London, Birmingham Royal Ballet brought its Stravinsky Triple Bill comprising three ballets that the Russian composer created for the Diaghilev company: “Apollo”, “Pulcinella” and “Firebird”.

The programme opened with George Balanchine’s “Apollo”. Chi Cao took the lead as Apollo. His performance was technically assured and he was also commanding on stage. However, he somehow missed the wonderful transition that takes this young god from pupil of the muses to his call to the Parnassus. The three muses were equally mute dramatically and though they managed to perform the steps, there was a worrying lack of character in their roles. One must assume that when a company chooses to stage the complete “Apollo”, there is an obvious interest in the narrative of the ballet, otherwise there is the more abstract version Balanchine himself favoured at the end of his life.

BRB chose the former and yet performed it with such a lack of character that it did not make much impact from the dramatic sense. True, in Balanchine, the steps carry the actions, but to take this idea to the limit somehow misses the point of some of the variations. If Polyhymnia gets so carried away that at the end of her variation she opens her mouth, there must be something in her variation that must give away the enjoyment of what she is doing. Unfortunately, Nao Sakuma performed this variation as if it were a complex classroom exercise. Likewise, Apollo’s variation is more than just a bunch of steps put together for the occasion. It was a shame to see a company that used to be so good at character dancing offering such a blank performance of such a great work.

Next came “Pulcinella”, with new choreography by Kim Brandstrup for the company. On this occasion, the company felt much more at ease with the piece and offered a touching rendition of what it turned out to be very interesting choreography. The main roles were danced by Robert Parker and Ambra Vallo and their portrayals of Pulcinella and Pimpinella were true and unassuming. Brandstrup’s choreography was clear enough to allow the simple narrative to flow, while allowing the choreographer to explore a language that is personal and complex. The whole company contributed with their performances to the overall success of the piece, as they all seemed to be enjoying their roles and the chances given to them.

The last ballet of the evening was “Firebird”. The leads were given to both Chi Cao and Nao Sakuma, with Silvia Jiménez as the Beautiful Tsarevna. Cao suffered from the same problems as he did in his rendition of Apollo, if only on this occasion, his role is a character role and, unless this is clearly established, the ballet loses much of its weight. Ivan Tsarevitch is a difficult role that requires an excellent actor. The Royal Ballet’s performances have always excelled at providing very vivid characterisations and it was surprising to see BRB not quite managing this. Nao Sakuma was a good Firebird, with good jump and assured technique.

On a personal note, I wish BRB had revived "Petrouchka" for this programme, as the ballet is hardly seen nowadays and the company used to be one of the very few ones that managed to make this piece alive. Perhaps it would be a good tool to make this very young company recall its past glory at character and dramatic pieces where dance-actors used to leave such strong impressions on the audience.

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