Brouillards, The Dance House, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Everyman Theatre, Cheltenham; May 26, 2010
Allegri diversi, Grosse Fuge, The Centre and its Opposite
Birmingham Royal Ballet
Theatre Royal, York; May 29, 2010
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s split-tour initiative, now in its seventh year, allows the company to present full-scale works with live orchestral accompaniment to audiences who might not otherwise get to see such high-quality classical dance. And there is a spin-off for the company too, since it gives younger dancers a chance to take on some more prominent roles.
This year’s programme for the south and west kicked off with John Cranko’s rather enigmatic “Brouillards.” Set to Debussy piano pieces, the ballet is a little like a series of impressionist sketches. Dancers come and go, often melting away into the wings at the end of each as if the mist of the title has swallowed them up, leaving nothing but memories. It is largely gentle and wistful with an air of sadness about it, not least in a most expressive duet between Viktoria Walton and Matthew Lawrence. But there is fun too. A bowler hated Rory Mackay was an excellent S. Pickwick Esq., while Robert Gravenor, Nathaniel Skelton and Oliver Till were nicely amusing in the “Cake Walk”.
David Bintley made “The Dance House” in memory of dancer and friend Nick Millington, who died in his mid-thirties. Inspired by Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No.1, Bintley’s choreography is not only intensely musical, but often quite moving, especially in the outstanding slow duet that is full of graceful lifts and elegant lines. The work is also full of colour though, helped along by Robert Heindel’s striking designs.
The afternoon was rounded off by a sparkling performance of George Balanchine’s “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue”, the purely danced finale to the Broadway musical “On Your Toes”, a backstage story of jealousy over a ballerina, and a total send-up of Russian ballet. Played out in a bar against a backdrop of skyscrapers that look like high-heeled boots, and with its gangsters, showgirls, laid back bartenders and stereotyped cops it’s a sure fire winner. The long main duet, between Alexander Campbell as the hoofer and a gorgeous, sexy Ambra Vallo was one to savour.
All in all, an extremely satisfying programme, and great work by all concerned to adapt to the Everyman Theatre’s tiny stage.
In the north and east, meanwhile, Artistic Director David Bintley constructed a programme that took audiences on a journey from pure classicism, through subtle dance modern dance, to brash out and out contemporary ballet. It opened with his own “Allegri diversi.” It may be a simple looking work for a lead couple and six other dancers, but it is one that is full of elegance, delightful invention and patterning, and is a joy to watch.
After a quiet opening establishes relationships between the dancers, Bintley’s purely classical choreography matches the tone and colour of the Rossini score. Given the steep rake of the stage the footwork and partnering was excellent. Everyone gets the chance to show off their technique. In York César Morales and Elisha Willis led the cast well, a particular highlight being a series of pirouettes by the latter that, despite the vicious rake on the stage, did not travel an inch.
Stravinsky once described Beethoven’s “Grosse Fuge” from the Op. 133 String Quartet as “an absolutely contemporary piece of music.” It certainly provides the perfect strong accompaniment for the opening of Hans van Manen’s work of the same name. The opening section is reminiscent of a mating ritual, the men in long black trouser-skirts aggressive with clenched fists and arms outstretched in a strong V-shape. It was not quite as strong and powerful as I recall in the past but the formality remains effective. The York cast really blossomed after the women had responded and the music changes to the Cavatina from the Op. 130 Quartet. With the men now only in shorts and a black belt, and the women hanging frequently on to the belt buckles, the formal lines of the choreography somehow serve only to emphasise further the sexuality and sensuality of the dance.
To close, the audience was brought right up to date with Garry Stewart’s loud and powerful “The Centre and its Opposite.” When this premiered a year ago I thought it was the most challenging work BRB had done in years. It still looks great. Stewart’s pulsating choreography set against Huey Benjamin’s throbbing score and Michael Mannion’s strip lighting gives the whole work a hard-edged, cold and powerful underworld feel. Especially outstanding was Dusty Button and Momoko Hirata.“Brouillards”, “The Dance House” and “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” continues on tour to Truro (June 4 and 5). “Allegri diversi”, “Grosse Fuge” and “The Centre and its Opposite” continues to Durham (June 1 and 2) and Kings Lynn (June 4 and 5). See http://www.brb.org.uk for details.