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Birmingham Royal Ballet

'Strictly Dancing'

by David Mead

October 6, 2007 -- Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham

If “Edward II”, the first half of BRB’s autumn offering, was a ballet for the company’s men, the mixed programme certainly gave the ladies a chance to shine.  Marketed as “Strictly Dancing”, it appears at first sight a rather odd mix.  Petipa, Tharp and Ashton -- nineteenth-century Russia, a ballroom and Mediterranean Greece -- is not the most obvious combination but the programme worked surprisingly well and was certainly enjoyed by the audience.

For many in Birmingham, the highlight was the final piece of the three, the company’s first production of Ashton’s 1951 version of “Daphnis and Chloe”, only previously danced in Britain by The Royal Ballet.  The ballet tells the story of Daphnis’ love for Chloe, his battle with Dorkon for her affection, her capture by pirates and subsequent rescue by Pan – all rather far-fetched, but no more so than many other works.  While being historically interesting, it does however look of its time and can seem rather dated to modern eyes.

The Saturday matinee gave us the first chance to see Natasha Oughtred in a leading role for the company.  A recent capture from The Royal Ballet, Oughtred never put a foot wrong and gave a delightfully assured performance as Chloe, but it would have been nice to have seen a little more connection with her lover, here danced by Chi Cao.  It just all seemed rather cold, despite the Mediterranean feel helped enormously by John Craxton’s powerfully evocative sets.  Hardly surprising perhaps that Craxton had lived on and around the Greek islands for many years.  Oughtred did however show more than enough to suggest she will be a real asset to BRB.  The villains were rather more convincing, especially Tom Rogers as the swarthy Dorkon and Ambra Vallo’s sexy portrayal of Lykanion.

“Strictly Dancing” opened with Galina Samsova’s production of “Paquita”, with all the glamour and spectacle of the Russian court.  The corps seemed occasionally uncertain but Jenna Roberts in the lead showed a beautiful line and excellent technique and artistry.  Her turns and the long series of fouettés were all very nicely executed indeed.  Roberts was excellently partnered by the ever-reliable Robert Tewsley, who leapt and turned with great assurance.  Tewsley is presently guesting for the autumn season, but let us hope he stays so we can enjoy his stately presence in BRB’s performances of “Swan Lake” early next year.

For once, the lightest ballet of the three came in the middle.  And BRB’s dancers really do seem to carry off Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs” better and better.  It might be easy on the eyes and ears but it is not an easy work to dance.  I remember when it was first danced by the company fifteen months ago, that many of the awkward lifts in it looked very awkward indeed.  Now, it suits them like a glove.

This season, comings and goings in the company give us the chance to see some new pairings.  Everyone looked so good and at home that it seems a little unfair to pick out individuals but Tyrone Singleton was his usual wonderful laid back self with Victoria Marr in “One for My Baby”, and Chi Cao showed us another side to his talents with Angela Paul in “That’s Life”.  The highlight, without a doubt, was Mimoko Hirata, who was quite simply spellbinding as she was wheeled around in Alexander Campbell’s assured arms in the opening “Softly as I Leave You”.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia, excellent as usual, was conducted by Barry Wordsworth.

“Strictly Dancing” continues on tour to London, Sunderland and Plymouth.

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