‘The Four Seasons’, ‘Nine Sinatra Songs’, ‘Pineapple Poll’ - Birmingham Royal Ballet
Hippodrome Theatre, Birmingham, June 13, 2007
I’ll admit to never having been completely comfortable Oliver Hindle’s “The Four Seasons.” “Summer”, a section made much earlier than the rest still looks fabulous. Jenna Roberts, Victoria Marr and Elisha Willis were especially alluring in their blue swimsuits as they postured and posed on the poolside. The rest was well danced but the references to tennis (rather appropriate with Wimbledon on the horizon), gymnastics and skating always seem rather too literal.
More of “Nine Sinatra Songs” shortly, but the evening finished with a glorious revival of John Cranko’s “Pineapple Poll,” now over 50 years old. This is the sort of thing BRB do very well, and it showed as they gave it their all and danced it with great zest. Based on W.S. Gilbert’s “The Bumboat Woman’s Story”, it’s full of comedy, love interest and dancing, and really shows Cranko’s flair for storytelling. Dominic Antonucci made for a tall and handsome Captain Belaye, engaged to Blanche, given just the right level of dippyness by Viktoria Walton. Carol-Anne Millar as Poll danced neatly and precisely as she fluttered her eyelashes at the good captain, although of course she finished up with Jasper, the Pot Boy from the Steam Packet pub who somehow makes it to Captain himself at the end. All totally silly, and almost cartoon-like, but great fun, and like many of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, that’s probably why it still works.
With all the variants of ballroom dancing competitions on TV these days it’s not surprising that Twyla Tharp’s “Nine Sinatra Songs” should go down well. As the meat in the sandwich of the programme, the Birmingham audience certainly gulped it down. Some of the couples could have done with loosening up a little, but on the whole it was well danced, and it certainly looked better on the large Hippodrome stage than it did in the smaller venues that made up last summer’s split tour. Best of the first bunch of duets was undoubtedly Victoria Marr and Tyrone Singleton in “One for my baby”. When Singleton sauntered on, looking wonderfully laid back and with his bow tie undone just hanging round his neck, you knew instantly he was at ease with the situation. And they certainly gave us a dance to remember, coping well with some very difficult lifts.
An awful lot of attention has been focused recently on Darcey Bussell’s goodbye at Covent Garden; and quite right too. While her merits as a classicist can be debated, she has certainly given them a lot over the past 20 years. But BRB are in the throws of saying a goodbye of their own too, as Robert Parker, 31, leaves the company this summer after 13 years. Parker already has a private pilot’s licence and, in a total change of direction, is off to train as a commercial airline pilot. Over the years he has developed from a showman into a fine dancer, and more importantly, a fine performer who knows how to bring roles to life, to put the real human being into them. This was his final week on stage in Birmingham, and perform he and Angela Paul certainly did in the final “Sinatra Songs” duet, “That’s Life.” To say they went at it full pelt would be an understatement as they pushed and pulled each other around the stage. A couple clearly in love but with their fair share of disagreements too. Yes, that's’life! And then, of course, the finale. The words of “My Way” seemed incredibly apt, and when everyone exited at the end, it was rather appropriate that Parker and Paul were the last two left on the stage. Thanks, Robert.
“Nine Sinatra Songs” can be seen in Salford this July, then as part of BRB’s autumn mixed programme in Birmingham and on tour around the UK.
Robert Parker’s final performances will be at Salford from June 4 to 7.