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Birmingham Royal Ballet

Stravinsky: A Celebration 2007

'Agon', 'Stravinsky Violin Concerto', 'Symphony in Three Movements'

by David Mead

February 14, 2007 -- Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK

Igor Stravinsky first met George Balanchine in 1925 while working with the Ballets Russes. Over the following fifty years they became firm friends and their relationship developed into one of the most important between choreographer and composer. Although Balanchine made ballets to many composers’ music, it was to Stravinsky he returned again and again. So, as part of Birmingham’s continuing “Igorfest”, in which all of Stravinsky’s works are to be performed live in the city, what could be more appropriate than for Birmingham Royal Ballet to stage a programme of three ballets from this remarkable partnership.

“Agon”, created in 1957, looks as fresh as ever. Balanchine created his own choreographic language to Stravinsky’s splintered score, so it is always interesting to see how new dancers cope when they take over the lead roles. In Birmingham, the opening night pas de deux was handed to Tyrone Singleton and Jenna Roberts. Both seemed completely at home and made the most of Balanchine’s constantly twisting, turning choreography. They looked like they really understood what Mr B is about. They actually made it electric and exciting, which can’t always be said when British companies dance his works. It was just a shame that Roberts’ otherwise clean lines were a little spoiled by an errant ribbon end that popped out early on.

“Stravinsky Violin Concerto” is a welcome addition to BRB’s already considerable Balanchine repertory. Following the series of unexpected entrances, exits and changes of group that mark the opening, the ballet explores a couple of what seem to be turbulent, difficult male-female relationships. Robert Parker and Elisha Willis danced the first pas de deux with all the required energy and clarity. Willis at times looked like some strange insect as she effortlessly wound herself around her partner, sometimes arching backwards gymnast-like into ever more weird yet beautiful positions. Both looked perfectly at home in the roles, and dare I say it, as if they were enjoying themselves. Willis in particular really seems to have blossomed this season and was particularly spiky and sharp. Nao Sakuma and Iain Mackay didn’t sizzle to the same extent and looked a little less comfortable. Both could have done with a little more bite and attack, each tending to round Balanchine’s sharper edges somewhat. Guest artist Takane Funatsu, making her debut as the solo violinist for the work, was excellent and thoroughly deserved her reception at the end.

The whole company certainly drove themselves through “Symphony in Three Movements”, superbly echoing the driving pulse of Stravinsky’s score that seems to run continuously through the whole piece. The corps members were nicely sharp and of the leading dancers, Dominic Antonucci and Carol-Anne Millar in particular were sharp, spiky and athletic, and really seemed to understand what Balanchine is all about.

Following the previous week’s “Cyrano,” which is as full of narrative, drama and characterisation as you can get, here was ballet simply about the steps and the music. Non-narrative Balanchine works like these really do lay the dancers’ technique bare for all to see. Although some of the BRB dancers have a tendency to smooth Balanchine’s sharp edges somewhat, the good news is that they once again showed what good form they are in at the moment, in an excellent demonstration of athletic, modernist, energetic, playful and intensely musical dance. And let’s not forget the important part also played by the ever-excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Philip Ellis.

Stravinsky: A Celebration 2007 continues on tour to Salford, Plymouth and Sunderland.

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