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Birmingham Royal Ballet

Opposites Attract: 'Take Five', 'Lyric Pieces', 'Grosse Fuge'

by David Mead

October 24, 2012 -- Sadler's Wells Theatre, London, UK

It’s an easy on the eye, easy on the ear opening to this enjoyable triple bill from Birmingham Royal Ballet. In “Take Five”, David Bintley matches the perkiness of Dave Brubeck’s music well. It’s all very laid back and light. In a way, that’s the problem. It’s almost too laid back and you start to yearn for something a little more edgy, or at least with a bit more pizazz. It does eventually arrive in the rather appropriately named “Flying Solo”, that zips around the stage and that is packed with one fast turn after another, and in which Mathias Dingman was quick and sharp. The later “Four Square” section has a sense of competition about it as each of the men, who generally move together, breaks out in turn for a short solo. They have to clap the rhythm throughout, as well as do the steps; no easy task. Jean-Marc Puissant’s give everything a 1950s look: knee-length dresses with in matching colours and with white collars for the ladies, and slacks and polo-shirts for the men.

Jessica Lang’s “Lyric Pieces” looked good when it was premiered at Birmingham’s Crescent Theatre in May. But would it survive the moving to a big stage? The answer is not only ‘yes’, but if anything it looks even better. Her set comprises concertinaed black paper that opens out into walls, fans, pillars and more. Cleverly, Lang incorporates it into the choreography as the dancers manipulate it to change the design between each section. It reminded me enormously of the black crinkly paper that you get in the top of boxes of chocolates. And just like them, “Lyric Pieces” is packed with bite-sized tasty chunks.

Danced to a series of short piano pieces by Grieg, Lang’s most classical dance is beautifully textured. Among the best of the ten sections is “In Ballad Style”, dominated by Chou Tzu-chao, who jumps were not only high, but as light as a feather. A close second is the penultimate “Phantom”, a gently romantic and graceful pas de deux danced here by Angela Paul and Joseph Caley. Grieg’s music was played beautifully by the ever-reliable Jonathan Higgins.

Despite having created a string of well-received works in the US, Lang remains almost unknown in Britain. Hopefully that will change following this. I, for one, would like to see more of her work, and we certainly need someone to bang the drum for female ballet choreographers.

If any one of the ballets reflected the ‘Opposites’ of the programme’s title, it’s surely Hans van Manen’s fine 1971 ballet “Grosse Fuge” to orchestral music by Beethoven. The first part, to the Grosse Fuge that ends his B flat quartet (op.130), is full of posturing. The men are like birds trying to attract a mate as they strut and preen themselves. There’s lots of deep pliés, extended arms and fists. He leaves us in no doubt it’s a show of strength. The women watch, almost blank-faced, but then it’s their turn. The mood lightens with the arrival of the Cavatina as the couples get together. Here, there’s some clever use of the large belts worn by the men, held onto by the women and used by them to pull themselves up off the floor. It’s usually very powerful stuff, although in this occasion didn’t quite achieve the heights of previous performances by the company.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by Koen Kessels.

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