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Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13
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Author:  David [ Mon Oct 08, 2012 10:10 am ]
Post subject:  Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

‘Swan Lake’
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Birmingham Hippodrome; October 4, 2012

David Mead

Birmingham Royal Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo Bill Cooper.JPG
Birmingham Royal Ballet in Swan Lake. Photo Bill Cooper.JPG [ 53.34 KiB | Viewed 13170 times ]

“Swan Lake” is not a fairy story in the “Sleeping Beauty” mould. If you need convincing, just listen to some of the complex and moody themes in Tchaikovsky’s masterful, almost symphonic score. I like my “Swan Lakes” to reflect that, and openings don’t come much darker than the funeral cortege of the prologue in this 1981 Peter Wright and Galina Samsova production. As the story moves on, Wright and Samsova also understood that while virtuosity is important, it loses everything without an accompanying poetry and delicacy.

That dark opening puts the whole ballet in context. It explains why the Prince’s 21st birthday party seems more like a wake, and why his mind seems to be everywhere but on dance in front of him. That conflict between celebration and mourning is equally reflected in Philip Prowse’s drenching of the castle in black, lilac and purple on one hand, and gold and silver on the other.

Siegfried is not usually danced with too much in the way of depth of character. There is all too often a tendency to overact in the role in a way that leads to superficiality, but a brooding César Morales gave a masterclass in how it should be done. In the opening scenes, a turn away, a blank stare into space and a tiny, yet dismissive gesture said so much.

Morales perked up when he met his Odette, and who wouldn’t. The petite Momoko Hirata was utterly beguiling. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such a perfectly matched couple. There was an immediate, powerful and spontaneous connection.

Hirata’s Odette was soft and fragile. The Act II pas de deux was hauntingly beautiful. When she fell backwards into Siegfried’s arms it seemed to happen in super slow motion and with the lightness of one of her feathers. Morales caught her with such soft hands it was though he was handling the most delicate porcelain. One slip and she would be lost forever. Her expression was one of distance, as if she did not really know or understand why she had been condemned to suffering and unhappiness, or how to release herself from the prison in which she found herself.

There wasn’t much softness in Hirata’s Odile, though. Now Hirata was full of life. Her dance was full of sharpness and attack as slowly but surely she reeled her prey in. Nothing fizzed and crackled as much as her series of fouettés that included two quadruple turns in amongst the usual singles and doubles; and all without the slightest wobble. Alongside her, Morales sparkled with his own series of turns and leaps, and lifts that made his swan seem almost weightless.

Hirata and Morales were backed up superbly by the rest of the company, which looked to be on top form. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone look so happy to be on stage as Chou Tze-chao. Ever-smiling, as Benno he made everything look effortless, almost matching Morales for lightness on his feet, with great height on his jumps and remarkably smooth transitions out of pirouettes to match. Along with Maureya Lebowitz and Laura Purkiss as the courtesans, he particularly shone in the Act I pas de trois. Top marks too for the swans that never seemed to be an inch out of place. Elsewhere, there was little sense of Valentin Olovyannikov’s Rothbart having much in the way of control over events, but there’s not too much room for that in this production anyway.

There have been many interpretations of “Swan Lake” over the years. Male swans, modern dress, different time periods…they have all been done. There have been versions without a lake, even at least one version without swans that instead used a single white feather as a metaphor. I like to see new takes on the old story, but it’s good to come home. And it’s especially good when a production and performance is as outstanding as this.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Wed Oct 24, 2012 11:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

In the Financial Times, Clement Crisp reviews BRB's performance of a triple bill at Sadler's Wells: works by David Bintley, Jessica Lang and Hans van Manen.

Financial Times

Judith Mackrell reviews the same production for the Guardian.


Author:  David [ Thu Oct 25, 2012 11:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Opposites Attract: ‘Take Five’, ‘Lyric Pieces’, ‘Grosse Fuge’
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Sadler’s Wells Theatre, London; October 24, 2012

David Mead

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 year 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 with 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. It’s the clapping that gets everyone though. 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. Would it survive the moving to a big stage, though? 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.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Fri Oct 26, 2012 9:43 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Matthew Paluch reviews "Autumn Celebration," a second triple bill at Sadler's Wells, including works by Layton, Bintley and Ashton, for the Arts Desk.

Arts Desk

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Sun Oct 28, 2012 3:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Clement Crisp reviews the Thursday, October 25, 2012 triple bill of Joe Layton's "The Grand Tour," David Bintley's "Faster" and Frederick Ashton's "The Dream" at Sadler's Wells for the Financial Times.

FInancial Times

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Oct 29, 2012 8:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Judith Mackrell reviews the mixed bill at Sadler's Wells ("Faster," "The Grand Tour" and "The Dream") for the Guardian.


Author:  Francis Timlin [ Mon Oct 29, 2012 9:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Vanessa Keys reviews the "Autumn Celebrations" triple bill for The Stage.

The Stage

Author:  David [ Fri Nov 02, 2012 7:40 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Farewell to Matthew Lawrence

Birmingham Royal Ballet principal Matthew Lawrence will be leaving the company at the end of the forthcoming Birmingham "Cinderella" season. He will be returning to Australia to dance with Queensland Ballet.

Lawrence joined BRB in 2008, having previously been a Principal with Australian Ballet.

Author:  David [ Tue Nov 27, 2012 7:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Birmingham Hippodrome; November 23, 2012

David Mead

Iain Mackay as the Prince with Birmingham Royal Ballet in Cinderella. Photo Bill Cooper.JPG
Iain Mackay as the Prince with Birmingham Royal Ballet in Cinderella. Photo Bill Cooper.JPG [ 32.15 KiB | Viewed 12632 times ]

Injuries are a real bane for an artistic director. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s men are experiencing something of a spate of them at the moment, leading to more than one reworking of the planned casting for the “Cinderella” season, the latest of which threw together Iain Mackay and Nao Sakuma. It is a partnership rarely seen in a story ballet but they swept all before them. Even they seemed to sense it was going well. In the Act II pas de deux in particular there was a real sense of them really going for it. They made the trickiest of lifts look easy, even the dramatic one hand overhead ones. It has to be said that they were helped along by Paul Murphy and the orchestra cracking on at a fair rate, but everything was attacked with flair and everything came off brilliantly.

Of course, by the time Mackay made his entrance pretty much everyone in the audience had fallen for Sakuma’s downtrodden heroine. She really is a very good dance-actress these days. Stuck in John Macfarlane’s gloomy cellar *******, all dirty tiles and peeling paint, barefoot and with no trace of make-up, she cut a pitiful sight as she was picked on by her stepsisters and virtually ignored by her stepmother, for who she was very much a non-person.

Samara Downs cut a gloriously tall and haughty figure as surely the pushiest mother of all time. There is only one thing on her mind, and that’s getting one of her daughters married off to the Prince. You sense this is not for their sake, though. Rather, her daughters are her route to the top of the social ladder and nothing is going to get in her way. The problem is that not only do Skinny (Victoria Marr) and Dumpy (Angela Paul) fail to master the social graces on every count, they are your archetypical moody, recalcitrant, constantly whinging teenagers too.

Her problems were brought home at the ball. Skinny and Dumpy were having a whale of a time chasing the men and, in the latter’s case, the cakes. They were wreaking havoc at every turn. There was wonderful dancing going on a plenty, but at the side of the stage and in a scene stealing moment, there was mum giving Skinny the most marvellous telling off after yet another hilarious faux pas. I could almost hear the words, “What do you think you are playing at? If you do that one more time, my girl…”

There is so much more for all ages. I particularly enjoyed James Barton’s dancing master who finally loses patience with his uncooperative charges. For kids of all ages there are the lizards, mice and the most wonderful giant frog that help the Fairy Godmother speed Cinderella to the ball. And MacFarlane’s huge industrial clock that comes together and booms out the chimes of midnight is a masterpiece. Yes, the final scene, all glitter and sparkling silver, is a bit saccharin sweet. But who cares. This is a “Cinderella” to dream about.

Author:  David [ Sun Feb 10, 2013 10:04 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Special guest dancers announced for Aladdin

Birmingham Royal Ballet's "Aladdin" season will feature guest appearances by Yudai Fukuoka and Ayako Ono from the National Ballet of Japan. The pair created the roles of Aladdin and the Princess in the original Tokyo production and will be reprising their roles for selected performances.

Click here for casting so far confirmed.

Author:  David [ Thu Feb 28, 2013 8:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

There's a lengthy feature on BRB First Soloist Chou Tzu-chao here: ... 01780&mp=1

Author:  David [ Thu Mar 14, 2013 7:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Birmingham Royal Ballet wins a BBC Performing Arts Fund Music Fellowship award

Birmingham Royal Ballet is one of 19 organisations to have won a BBC Performing Arts Fund Music Fellowship award. The award will allow the company and its full-time orchestra, the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, to work with Conducting Fellow James Ham. The Company will mentor, build on and hone Ham’s current skills to enable him to succeed as a ballet conductor.

James Ham, said: "I am delighted to be joining Birmingham Royal Ballet as their Conducting Fellow. The transition between full-time study and establishing oneself within the profession is one of the most difficult periods, so this fellowship comes at a crucial stage in my career. I am very grateful to Birmingham Royal Ballet for initially nominating me for a BBC Performing Arts Fund Music Fellowship and very much look forward to working with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and the company as a whole over the coming months."

John Beadle, BRB’s Orchestra Director, said: "This Fellowship from the BBC Performing Arts Fund is a great opportunity for Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia to work with and mentor an exciting young conductor and increase the ranks of experienced ballet conductors in this country. In addition, the Fellowship is intended to act as a pilot for a new scheme of training and mentoring for emerging conductors. We plan to use the lessons learned to develop and implement similar placements in future years, allowing a steady stream of fresh talent to feed into the ballet conducting pool in the UK and establishing Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia as pioneers in training the ballet conductors of the future."

Author:  David [ Wed Mar 27, 2013 7:52 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Birmingham Royal Ballet
London Coliseum; March 20th, 2013

Charlotte Kasner

The late, great Gene Roddenberry created a prop for “Star Trek” that had the initials “GNDN” on the side. The ever alert Trekkies contacted him and asked him what it stood for, knowing that he had a reputation for logic and engineering accuracy. “Goes nowhere, does nothing”, he replied.

That is rather the way that I feel about David Bintley’s Aladdin. It is not a story with which I can claim any familiarity, so the slate was completely clean. Whilst I didn’t expect profundity, I didn’t expect to be bored. It is a feast for the eye, if not for the ear. Sets and costumes are sumptuous. In fact, almost too much so, as the riot of colour is at the expense of the characters, making Aladdin quite hard to see at times.

From the multi-coloured strips of cloth filling the upper regions of the stage in the market to the glorious dancing lion and dragon puppet, it is a visual delight. Tutus are terrific, from the stark black and white plates to glittering rubies, emeralds and sapphires in harem pants and crop tops. The djinn of the lamp is dressed form head to toe in bright blue, including face and body paint. Two nights in a row, the latest LED technology has been to the fore, this time with Mark Jonathan’s superb stalactites and crystals that morph into new colours to match the dancing jewels. He also makes effective use of a gobo to create a sirocco and rotating sun, although the ubiquitous use of smoke with lighting made the market in ‘old China’ look like a foggy day by Gas Street basin.

What a pity then, that all this glittering delight was nowhere near matched by plot, acting, music or choreography. It was one of the most underplayed ballets that I have ever seen. Tzu-Chao Chou did his best as the djinn but was only given one really substantial solo that was so near the end that it was too late to excite any real interest. Aladdin never had a chance to make his mark and only the Mahgrib stood out, all swirling costume and nastiness.

The choreography rarely rises above serviceable. Nothing offends but nothing arouses either. There is plentiful use of arabesques (geddit?) and a nod towards 19th century formality but no great pas de deux or grand corps set pieces.

The worst aspect of the evening by far is Carl Davis’ dire score. The overture was a hideous, Disneyesque mash of blandness, heralding the ghastliness that was to follow. The rest of the evening delivered a pastiche of everything from Rimsky-Korsakov to Maoist songs. One felt for the orchestra and conductor.

“Aladdin” is quite like one of the old war horses of 19th-century ballet: silly plot, rumpty-tum music but lacking in cracking fireworks from the choreography that would make the bits in the middle bearable. Cut down and with more emphasis on the characters, it could be a seasonal treat. It is difficult to see, in its present incarnation, who would want to see it. There is very little to appeal to the ballet cognoscenti and even older children would struggle to sit through a very long two and a half hours with so little happening.

Author:  Francis Timlin [ Thu Jun 06, 2013 2:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Alan Poole reviews "Coppelia" at the Birmingham Hippodrome for the Birmingham Mail.

Birmingham Mail

Author:  David [ Sun Jun 09, 2013 10:03 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Birmingham Royal Ballet 2012-13

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Birmingham Hippodrome, UK; June 5, 2013

David Mead

With its easy to understand story, humour and pleasant choreography, “Coppélia” is close to the perfect ballet for many. Peter Farmer’s designs are a winner too with his unspoiled mid-European village buried amid rich green foliage and set alongside a dark lake. It all suggests immediately mystery and magic. But even ballets like “Coppélia” can wear you down. It is not so much that one knows the story inside out or every comedy moment. It is just that everything just seems so set in its ways, so comfortable, even safe, and it has to be said, so terribly dated, not least the tiresome and endless “me Tarzan, you Jane” mime.

From time to time, though, something or someone comes along and the whole thing seems reinvigorated. That certainly happened here. Momoko Hirata and Chou Tzu-chao as Swanhilda and Franz did not so much breathe new life into the ballet as send a gale coursing through it.

Hirata does not quite match some others for acting. In particular, she has not quite got the hang of looking indignant yet, but there was a point when I really did feel she was about to burst into tears as Franz’s attention turned to a gypsy girl yet again. By the time we got to Dr. Coppélius’ workshop she was totally believable, though. She does impetuous well. Let’s not forget that on this score Swanhilda is almost as bad as Franz. There is a lovely glimmer in her eye her when she is about to do something that she knows she really shouldn’t. Who is it, after all, who leads the rest of the girls, one decidedly unwillingly, into Dr. Coppélius’ house, and then has the idea to set all the toys off in the workshop? Any minor shortcomings on the acting side were more than made up for by her dancing. She is the most marvellous technician. Everything is so clean and precise. Like all outstanding dancers she always seems to have so much time; nothing ever seems rushed. And she actually looks like she is enjoying it, which helps us enjoy it too.

In his first principal role since joining from Australian Ballet two years ago, Chou looked like he was having a good time too. Does he ever look anything else? I do not think I’ve ever seen Franz look so happy, with absolutely no idea of the upset his jack-the-lad womanising was causing. He attacked everything with his usual gusto, on occasion perhaps a little too much. His pirouettes were amazingly fast and clean, and his leaps soared, even if there was the occasional slightly less than perfect landing. He is far from the tallest male dancer in the company, but his partnering and lifting was neat and secure; although there were a couple of times in the Act III pas de deux when brining Hirata down from a lift looked more difficult than it should have. Mind you, when you have a face full of saw-like tuille, nothing is easy.

Elsewhere, Rory Mackay was the bewildered Dr Coppélius, bringing equal amounts of pathos and comedy to the proceedings. Angela Paul was perfectly brash and sassy as the gypsy who catches Franz’s attention in Act I. In Act III, Céline Gittens shone as Dawn, although Delia Matthews was a little shaky as Prayer. The corps were on top form, with the men in Call to Arms, led by Mathias Dingman, looking particularly sharp.

Hoorah too a return to the traditional ending. For many years Act III in Birmingham has been followed by a short coda in which the desolate Coppélius wheels his doll across the empty stage, wondering what might have been, only for her really to come alive. Its loss will not be mourned.

If there is one gripe about the production, it is that sometimes things seem to be taken too fast. The entry of the girls into Dr. Coppélius’ house is over in a flash. Maybe the memory is playing tricks, but I am sure it used to take longer. And I am not sure who was at fault, but yet again, the first act curtain was down before Chou had barely got one foot on the ladder, and before the music finished.

When performed like this, Coppélia remains an appealing ballet. My love for it has been rekindled. I could certainly watch this couple again. The on-stage chemistry between them certainly grew as the ballet progressed, and this is surely a partnership to watch. Both are still only First Soloists, but let’s hope they get more opportunities and soon.

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