CriticalDance Forum

Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11
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Author:  David [ Mon Nov 29, 2010 8:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Birmingham Hippodrome; November 24, 2010

by David Mead

When Birmingham Royal Ballet came to the city to stay, Peter Wright gave the company’s new home town a magnificent “Nutcracker” that continues to wow audiences year on year. Two decades on David Bintley has conjured up another Christmas cracker in the form of a spectacular and sumptuous new “Cinderella”; a production that I predict confidently will be packing them in for years to come.

While Bintley has gone for a traditional look this is a long way from being a light and gently humorous child-focused version of the tale. Instead he goes for gritty realism, especially in Act I. He lays out his stall even before Prokofiev’s prologue is over, using the music to show the funeral of Cinderella’s mother. The gloomy scene against an inky sky not only sets the tone for what is to come, but makes sense of Cinderella’s position. The sinister nature of the lady who will become her stepmother is plain for all to see. A glimpse to the side and she sees the two girls who will become her horrible stepsisters.

Fast forwarding a few years Bintley’s Cinderella finds herself a skivvy in a subterranean ******* replete with peeling paint and dirty white tiles, the only natural light coming from high windows. Elisha Willis looked near perfect; barefoot, pale and wan. So used to the physical and psychological abuse dished out by the rest of the family is she that she has given up the will to fight back. All she has to cling on to is the memory of her dead mother, a link reinforced by her mother’s jewelled dancing slippers, kept hidden under a ******* cupboard, and the dream of one day meeting someone who will take her away. Yet she retains her humanity. When an old beggar woman appears, who later transpires to be the Fairy Godmother, there is a moment of doubt, of struggle with herself before, besides food, she gives her those slippers, her last material link with her mother.

The two sisters have always been the most difficult part of the ballet to get right. Bintley gives us Skinny, danced here by Gaylene Cummerfield in the plainest of dresses designed to make her look just that, and Dumpy, for which Carol-Anne Millar transformed herself with the aid of a fat suit into a Vicky Pollard look alike. It all suggests humour, and it does surface at the ball when they run amok like the immature, spoilt, uncouth youths they are. But when Cinderella is around they are bullies pure and simple.

They are egged on by Marion Tait’s magnificently malevolent stepmother. This must be one of her most chilling portrayals yet. She is Cruella de Vil and more, and makes even the most evil Carabosse look like a real sweetie. She leaves absolutely no doubt who is in charge. Only one person really matters, and that is her. When she tries on a blonde wig for the ball her face shows exactly what she is thinking and what she wants. The idea of one of her daughters marrying the Prince is simply a means to an end, it seems.

Of course it all turns out happily, but what visual delights there are on the way. Bintley’s storytelling and choreography is excellent but they share top billing with John Macfarlane’s wizard designs and David A Finn’s atmospheric lighting. When the Fairy Godmother appears as herself light gushes from the fireplace as Macfarlane produces a terrific transformation scene that turns the ******* into a star-speckled dream world. A carriage that looks like it is made of spun sugar is brought on by lizards, frogs and mice, before being folded together. Later, at the ball, and best of all, an enormous watch mechanism whirrs into life as midnight approaches.

All the set pieces are beautiful. Bintley weaves clever patterns with the stars that some to life and swirl around Cinderella, and later with the guests at the ball, whose deep red and midnight blue costumes contrast nicely with the silvery white of the Prince and his girl. The pas de deux are as classical as they come, complete with tricky lifts that have become such a Bintley trademark. Importantly though they always flow. A very high one-handed affair at the ball and repeated in the closing duet that reflects Cinderella’s soaring heart is particularly breathtaking. Elsewhere his Spring Fairy solo in particular calls for much quick and neat footwork, and was danced impeccably by Momoko Hirata.

The spectacle continues right to the end. The idea of stripping away all the set and leaving Cinderella and the Prince alone on a bare stage against a near black starry backdrop was inspired. As the lovers dance and their life together dawns, a giant, glowing celestial body rises behind them. It places the focus completely on the two leads, precisely where it should be.

All this was accompanied by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia. Under the baton of new music director Koen Kessels they weaved a spell all of their own, making Prokofiev’s searing score sound lusher than ever.

In these cash-strapped times it’s good to report that almost 40,000 people have booked to see “Cinderella” in Birmingham. For anyone unable to get along it can be seen live at The Lowry in Salford (January 19-22), Plymouth Theatre Royal (January 25-29) and London Coliseum (March 29-April 2). It’s also being filmed for transmission by the BBC this Christmas.

This review, with images, will appear later in the magazine.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Feb 04, 2011 5:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

Chris Morley talks to the principal conductor of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Orchestra, Paul Murphy in the Birmingham Post.

Birmingham Post

Author:  David [ Mon Feb 07, 2011 6:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11


Birmingham Royal Ballet has announced details of its 2011 mid-scale tours.

As usual the company will be splitting in two, half of the Company and Royal Ballet Sinfonia travelling to the south-west of the country and the remaining half travelling to the north-east.

This year each tour will visit just two venues, and with programmes that feature excerpts from classics and much-loved works alongside a shorter, complete ballet.

South-West tour:

Octagon Theatre, Yeovil: 19 - 20 April 2011
Hall for Cornwall, Truro: 22 - 23 April 2011

Allegri diversi (ch. David Bintley)
Titania and Oberon’s pas de deux from Frederick Ashton’s The Dream
An excerpt from Act I of Petipa's Coppélia (production by Peter Wright)
The grand pas de deux from Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty (production by Peter Wright)
An excerpt from Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée.

North-East tour

Gala Theatre, Durham: 19 - 20 April 2011
Theatre Royal, York: 22 - 23 April 2011

Slaughter on Tenth Avenue (ch. George Balanchine)
Coppélia Act II (ch. Petipa, prod. Peter Wright).
Pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s Concerto
Clog dance from Frederick Ashton’s La Fille mal gardée
Grand pas de deux from Petipa's The Sleeping Beauty (production by Peter Wright).

Author:  David [ Sat Mar 05, 2011 6:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

La Fille mal gardée
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham; March 2, 2011

“There exists in my imagination a life in the country of eternally late Spring, a leafy pastorale of perpetual sunshine and the humming of bees. At some time or another, every artist pays his tribute to nature: my “Fille mal gardée” is my poor man’s Pastoral Symphony.” So once wrote Frederick Ashton.

Right from the start there is no doubt that we are in Ashton’s English idyll. Osbert Lancaster’s front cloth with its sun-drenched green meadows full of grazing cows, a few sheep with a shepherd asleep against a tree, a distant village perfect in every respect, and birds high in the blue sky sets the scene wonderfully. But “Fille” looks at human nature too. It’s about a mother wanting the best for her daughter and a father the best for his son and thinking he can buy it. Look closely and there is a commentary here about class and social issues, but at heart it’s a straightforward story of true love, which of course wins out in the end.

The key to “Fille” is its simplicity and charm. And can there be a more charming Lise than Nao Sakuma? She is an excellent technician and made Ashton’s tricky footwork look easy. In fact, that part of her dancing is so good that it is often taken for granted. She can present a serious exterior sometimes, but it is roles such as this that bring out the best in her and reveal the bright and cheeky personality that lies within. There were many special moments, but the best was undoubtedly when Colas appeared from within the pile of sheaves of straw having secretly watched her imagining getting married and having children. The expression when she realised he had seen the whole thing was an absolute delight.

Iain Mackay’s Colas was a little more grown up and worldly wise than some. He might not have been the innocent ‘boy next door’ that some dancers project, but he was a charmer nonetheless and always engaging. His dance was always alive and full of energy. His jumps were high, exhilarating, yet always solid. Despite the exuberance, he never went too far though, and like Sakuma, always remained true to Ashton’s style and vision.

David Morse was a fine Widow Simone. Is there a better male character dancer in Britain today? The famous clog dance was a little less perky than usual, but Morse played the en travesty role to perfection. Widow Simone he may appear bossy, but Morse made it very clear that just below the surface is a huge soft spot for her sometimes naughty daughter. It is a fine line between acting the role splendidly and turning the whole thing into ghastly pantomime. Morse knows where the line is and never came close to crossing it.

Top marks for Robert Gravenor’s Alain too. He managed to squeeze every ounce of comedy out of the character without resorting to caricature. Importantly though he also presented someone appealingly innocent. His disappointment at losing Lise was so palpable that I doubt there was a single person in the theatre who did not feel sympathy for him.

All the supporting roles were equally well observed, from Kit Holder’s strutting, preening cockerel most definitely in charge of his four chickens; through Jonathan Payn’s slightly bumbling Thomas, whose misguided method of securing Lise’s hand in marriage for his son gets the reward it deserves; right through to the corps who danced with all the gaiety the ballet’s sunny setting demands.

Can there be a warmer, gentler, ballet that tells a story so neatly? Ashton not only put us in his English idyll, he filled it with characters that are warm at heart too. The packed Hippodrome audience lapped it up.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia was conducted by Philip Ellis.

Birmingham Royal Ballet has no further complete performances of “La Fille mal gardée” this season after March 5, although excerpts will be danced at Durham, York, Yeovil and Truro in April. The full ballet returns later in the year with performances at Sunderland, Sadler’s Wells and Plymouth in October. See for details.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Mar 31, 2011 2:36 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

Sarah Frater reviews a London Coliseum performance of David Bintley's "Cinderella" in The Evening Standard.

Evening Standard

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Apr 04, 2011 2:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

Luke Jennings reviews a Coliseum performance of David Bintley's "Cinderella" in The Observer.

The Observer

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Jun 16, 2011 12:08 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

Andy Richardson reviews a June performance of "Coppelia" at the Birmingham Hippodrome in the Shropshire Star.

Shropshire Star

Author:  David [ Sat Jun 18, 2011 3:11 am ]
Post subject:  Coppelia

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, UK; June 14, 2011

David Mead

What a wonderful evening! It’s all part of the English tradition of course, but Birmingham Royal Ballet has always been rather good at those full-length story ballets packed with demi-character roles, and in Peter Wright’s production of “Coppélia” they show just why.

It goes beyond simply dancing. Technique is hugely important but to really work ballets like “Coppélia” need to make us believe, at least for a while. For that you need outstanding dancer-actors and in Elisha Willis, Matthew Lawrence and David Morse we certainly got them.

Willis’ sparkled all evening. Her acting seems to have really blossomed recently and she was delightful as the spirited but occasionally petulant Swanhilda, a girl with a hint of temper, but also demure and surely every male villager’s dream sweetheart. She switched effortlessly between dance and acting, between being the adoring girlfriend and stomping off in a huff, slamming the cottage door behind her, at Franz’s latest albeit innocent indiscretion with another girl.

Matthew Lawrence was totally at ease as a rather dashing Franz. Although dim-witted enough to be taken in by a life size doll, he came over as more carefree than stupid. This is a guy who does everything on impulse, and while it doesn't take much to get him to flirt with the other girls, he left everyone in no doubt that his love for Swanhilda was never far away. Mind you, should Swanhilda have ever decided she really didn’t want him I suspect most of the women in the audience would have been queuing up to take her place.

The couple were perfectly at ease with each other in the dance too. Their pas de deux looked effortless. Willis has a nice line and showed plenty of the neat quick footwork she is so good at, while Lawrence’s lifts and big jumps were all as strong and as solid as one of the ancient trees that overshadowed the village.

Although Dr. Coppélius is often portrayed entirely as a comic figure the ballet always works better when the character is rather more layered. “Coppélia” is loosely based on parts of Hoffmann’s short story “Der Sandmann”, who would steal the eyes of children who wouldn't go to bed and feed them to his own children who lived in the moon. In that story, Coppélius is a mysterious night-time visitor who carried out strange alchemical experiments and who came to be associated with the Sandman. It’s also easy to see associations with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and while there is nothing quite so scary in the ballet, Wright does hint at the character’s darker side, making him mysterious and as enigmatic as Drosselmeyer in his “Nutcracker”, while throwing in an element of pathos for good measure. It’s a difficult mix to get right, but David Morse brought it all out wonderfully, touching the nerve in just the right places, not least in the unexpected ending when his doll really does come to life. Or does she? Dream or reality? You choose.

There’s more than a hint of darkness about Peter Farmer’s sets too, especially in Act I. His use of deep blue and green in his colour palette and the setting of the village on the banks of a moonlit, quite forbidding looking lake immediately cloaks the proceedings in an air of mystery and magic. It’s a place where you just know fantasy and reality are going to collide.

Although the leads took the plaudits, the rest of the ensemble deserves mention too. The whole company was on exceptional form with the ensemble dances all right on the button. One of the highlights of Act III, and recognised as such by the audience, was the Call to Arms, the boys dance led by Mathias Dingman who dashed off an excellent series of pirouettes in second.

The whole company made the ballet seem fresh and full of energy. This “Coppélia” is a thoroughly entertaining show that I guarantee will send you home happy.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “Coppélia” continues at the Hippodrome to June 11. It can also be seen at Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre from July 9-11 (see for details).

Author:  David [ Sat Jun 18, 2011 3:20 am ]
Post subject:  Coppelia

Phil Preece reviews Coppelia for Lichfield Live:

Lichfield Live

...Lorne Jackson does likewise for the Birmingham Post:

Birmingham Post

...and here's Richard Edmonds for The Stage:

The Stage

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Jun 23, 2011 12:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

Andy Richardson reviews David Bintley's "Allegri Diversi" and "Carmina Burana" in the Shropshire Star.

Shropshire Star

Richard Edmonds reviews the same program for The Stage.

The Stage

Author:  David [ Sat Jun 25, 2011 5:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

‘Allegri diversi’, ‘Carmina Burana’
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham; June 22, 2011

David Mead

David Bintley may have still been something of an emerging choreographer back in 1987 when he made “Allegri diversi”, but it is full of the musicality for which he is now known. It also shows the influence of Ashton on the young choreographer. Apart from the fact it brings back memories of “Symphonic Variations”, it is packed with so many of the things that make English ballet what it is.

It is a pleasing piece, full of elegant classicism and delightful invention and patterning. Although there is no story, it is impossible to escape the feeling of friends dancing together. The opening with the six performers dancing in a circle appears to draw heavily on English country dancing. It is quite simple yet elegant and quite sublime. The pas de deux is more dynamic. Nao Sakuma and Joseph Caley were excellent, both showing impressive speed and footwork in several series of small jumps and turns that flickered across the stage. There are plenty of surprises too as Bintley interposes unexpected lifts and poses into the dance, before bringing everyone together for a gentler finale.

“Allegri diversi” does not have the over the top effervescence of champagne. But it’s not supposed to. It is more like an outstanding lightly sparkling wine that should be savoured. It is poetry in motion and a real joy to watch.

“Carmina Burana”, made in 1996, was David Bintley’s first work as artistic director of Birmingham Royal Ballet. It still ranks as one of his best, and is certainly his most theatrical.

Packed with references to the medieval poem that opens and closed the piece, the ballet follows three seminarians and the lessons they get in the fickle and capricious nature of fate as they give up their studies and succumb to forbidden pleasures. Victoria Marr was effective as Fortuna, the goddess of fate who oversees matters, even if her opening solo lacked a little force. It should be a strong, dramatic statement that leaves everyone in no doubt about who is in charge, but it was…well, a bit too…nice. Marr grew into the role though, and by the end was quite the manipulative yet uninvolved force we expect, as she dealt unceremoniously with Iain Mackay.

Alexander Campbell was perfect as the wide-eyed, innocent and naïve first seminarian, stumbling across the young mothers or mums to be (Fortuna was originally the goddess of fertility), and who later falls foul of a group of yobs when he dares to pick up the gorgeously seductive Ambra Vallo. Jamie Bond’s second seminarian, though, lacked some of the expected energy and urgency that Robert Parker in particular used to bring to the role.

“Carmina Burana” just gets more dramatic as it goes along, and as ever it was the Court of Love that provided the highlight. Only here does a seminarian get to meet Fortuna. Led on by her, Iain Mackay loses his clothes as well as his faith. No doubt he thought he was on to a winner. Little did he know what was coming as he is toyed with before being tossed to one side like an unwanted plaything.

Helped along by Carl Orff’s stirring music played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, the wonderful Ex Cathedra Choir, and Philip Prowse’s magnificent designs the performance created an enormous buzz. I haven’t heard such excited chatter as people left the theatre for a long time.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Jun 29, 2011 12:53 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11

Laura Thompson reviews "Allegri Diversi" and "Carmina Burana" for The Telegraph.

The Telegraph

Author:  David [ Mon Jul 11, 2011 9:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11


Birmingham Royal Ballet has announced that Marion Tait has been appointed Assistant Director. Following a celebrated and award-winning career as Principal dancer with Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet, Tait became the company’s Ballet Mistress in 1995. She will continue to teach company class and perform character roles, and from August 2011 will assist Director David Bintley with Birmingham Royal Ballet’s artistic delivery.

Marion Tait joined The Royal Ballet's touring company (now Birmingham Royal Ballet) at the age of 17. Her first roles included the Betrayed Girl in de Valois’ "The Rake's Progress", Blue Skater in Ashton's "Les Patineurs" and the title role in Cranko's "Pineapple Poll" (being performed this coming autumn). In 1974, she was promoted to Principal and made her debuts in the lead roles in MacMillan's "The Invitation", Ashton's "The Dream", "Giselle" (her first full-length classical work) and "Coppélia". She has danced the ballerina roles in all the classics as well as Lise in Ashton's "La Fille mal gardée" and Juliet in MacMillan's "Romeo and Juliet".

Since 1995 Tait has been the company Ballet Mistress. She continues to perform character roles including one of the scariest portrayals of Carabosse you will ever see. She was made an OBE in 1992 and a CBE in the 2003; has twice been nominated for Olivier Awards (Juliet in "Romeo and Juliet", 1994, and Hagar in "Pillar of Fire", 1995); and was named Dancer of the Year 1994.

In addition:
Joseph Caley is promoted from First Soloist to Principal.
Tyrone Singleton is promoted from Soloist to First Soloist.
Rory Mackay is promoted from First Artist to Soloist
Mathias Dingman is promoted from First Artist to Soloist.
Samara Downs in promoted from First Artist to Soloist.
Céline Gittens is promoted from First Artist to Soloist.
Feargus Campbell is promoted from Artist to First Artist.
James Barton is promoted from Artist to First Artist.

Joining the company for 2011-12 are:

Maureya Lebowitz as Soloist from Royal Winnipeg Ballet in summer 2011.
Tzu-Chao Chou as Soloist from the Australian Ballet.
Emily Smith as Artist from the Royal Ballet School in summer 2011.
Karla Doorbar as Artist from the Royal Ballet School.
Brandon Lawrence as Artist from the Royal Ballet School.

Lewis Turner has offered a permanent contract as Artist following a year with the company as a Prix de Lausanne laureate. Turner trained at Elmhurst School for Dance, in association with Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Leaving the company is Video Archivist and former dancer and Principal Character Artist David Morse, who is retitring after 50 years with the Company. Recently retired is Andrea Tredinnick who left the company after the recent Japan tour. Tredinnick danced with Sadler’s Wells Royal Ballet and then Birmingham Royal Ballet for 24 years, and has now enrolled onto the RAD teaching training programme.

Also leaving are:
Alexander Campbell to join The Royal Ballet as a Soloist.
Christopher Rodgers-Wilson, who is returning to Australia and join Australia Ballet as an Artist.
Dusty Button, returning to the United States.
Machi Moritaka.
Sonia Aguilar.
Anniek Soobroy.

Author:  David [ Thu Aug 25, 2011 1:29 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2010-11


In addition to the above, Max Westwell is joining Birmingham Royal Ballet this summer as a Soloist. Max joins direct from English National Ballet where his roles included Romeo in Nureyev's version of Romeo and Juliet and Lescaut in MacMillan's Manon

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