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Birmingham Royal Ballet

'Dynamic Dance'

by David Mead

June 2, 2007 -- Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK

David Bintley has always tried to ensure that Britain’s ballet heritage is not forgotten.  But as a director he also makes a point of looking to the future and nurturing the choreographic talent he has at Birmingham Royal Ballet.  In 2005, members of the company choreographed to Holst’s “The Planets” and Oliver Hindle’s “The Four Seasons”, the latter to be seen later in the season.  “Dynamic Dance”, a programme of eight new works, is the latest such venture, this time danced to music by Stravinsky as part of BRB’s and the city of Birmingham’s ongoing celebration of his work.

The strongest piece on display was undoubtedly Kit Holder’s “Small Worlds” danced to “Concerto in D”.  Holder is one of BRB’s most experienced dancer-choreographers and it showed.  This was a true coming together of music, décor and dance.  The work was inspired by a series of paintings of the same name by Russian artist Kandinksy, coloured shapes and lines from which formed Helen Fownes-Davies’ wonderfully expressive yet abstract designs.

One of Kandinsky’s ideas was that different viewers should be able to take different emotions or ideas from the many colours and shapes in a picture’s images.  Taking this as his theme, Holder wanted to explore the idea that different moods that can be present and different people can take different feelings from the same image or piece of dance.  I haven’t talked to enough people to know if he succeeded, but where he certainly did score was in the way he made it seem as if the six dancers in their simple blue and terracotta unitards were part of the set, as if the whole was a Kandinksy painting come to life.  Special mention must go to Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao who danced a beautifully fluid pas de deux in the lyrical second section.

Proceedings were opened by Jenny Murphy’s light “Much-a-dance about nothing” (music: “Circus Polka Suite no.2”), with its suggestions of dancing at a summer ball, before Kosuke Yamomoto gave us a clear change of mood with “The end of Winter”.  Danced to “Four Etudes”, Stravinsky at his most romantic, Yamomoto gave us an often reflective piece, danced here by Nao Sakuma, Carol-Anne Millar and Alexander Campbell.  The work wasn’t hugely technically challenging, but he and his dancers certainly managed to communicate a mood and feeling while at the same time leaving space for the audience to interpret the meaning or put a story on it for themselves, something all together more difficult.

There was no doubt what “Avec moi ce soir” (music: “Circus Polka Suite no.1”) by Glyn Scott was about.  Red lights and suggestive ladies said it all!  Sadly, after a very promising opening it never really delivered.  Having chosen to work with Stravinsky’s five minute piano miniature “Tango”, Aonghus Hoole managed to give “All for a kiss”  quite a Latin feel without ever descending into the realms of “Strictly Ballroom”.  However, while we certainly saw the passion within at the beginning, the fire did seem to die down a little, and maybe a little more could have been made of the ending.

Endings seemed to be something of a problem for many of the choreographers.  Several of the works seemed to end in nothing--or just fade away, as was the case with Samara Downs’ “Ebony Concerto” (to music of the same title), which up until then had been very good indeed.  It seemed there was more than a nod in the direction of Balanchine here, both in some of the movement and the way she used the dancers in the space.  And if you’re going to nod anywhere, that’s a pretty good place. 

“Ebony” was followed by Nathanael Skelton’s “Unravelled” (to “Piano Rag Music”), the one piece that really didn’t seem to work.  It was definitely much more raw than the others, more contemporary and with floor work, but somehow the choreography didn’t seem to connect with Stravinsky’s jaunty rhythms.  The programme concluded with “Danses Concertantes”, an enjoyable and colourful ‘tights and tutus’ ballet with different sections choreographed by Holder, Yamomoto, Scott and Hoole.  Holder, who made the opening and closing sections, showed that he can work effectively with large numbers of dancers as well as smaller groups.

On the whole, Bintley’s dancers did him proud.  And it wasn’t easy for them.  Normally, choreographers can choose their own music, something that really inspires them.  Here they were given a shortlist to pick from, making the whole thing much more of a challenge and open to the risk that someone will try and put an existing idea on music that doesn’t really fit it.  That didn’t seem to happen, and the choreographers certainly showed more than a little promise and that the creative spirit is alive and well in the company.  Special mention must also go to the students from the University of Central England, who provided most of the designs.  Yes, there were times when things dipped a little, or an understandable tendency to play safe and to go for the predictable, either to slavishly follow the music or in the combinations of steps themselves.  But it’s a huge jump from choreographing at schoolor for a BRB summer school or workshop  to putting something on in front of a thousand people.  The question is, having been given the chance, will they go on? 

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