Polarity & Proximity – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 16 June 2018

Give us a hug

Boxed in. Birmingham Royal Ballet in George Williamson’s Embrace

One of David Bintley’s last major initiatives as Director of Birmingham Royal Ballet is the ambitious long-term project Ballet Now. Twice a year over the next five years, a new work is going to be produced for the main stage, each using a new choreographer, designer and composer.  George Williamson, who’s previously created works for English National Ballet and Lithuanian National Ballet, is the first choreographic recipient of the opportunity, and he’s joined for Embrace by young composer Sarah Kirkland Snider and designer Madeleine Girling.

Sadly, it’s not a great piece. There’s a fragmented narrative that follows a young man (Brandon Lawrence) as he discovers his true sexual identity. It’s a nice idea, especially as the honest experience of gay men is surprisingly rare in dance, but choreographically it suffers from having the kitchen sink thrown at it. It’s not helped in this case by the super-busy score and the lit box of a set that is, ironically, unenlightening.

By far the best moments are clutter-free, the highlights of which are the tender duets between Lawrence and Max Maslen. Their understatement is moving and the emotions touched upon are meaningful; it’s a shame they weren’t developed further. Never mind, the beauty of Ballet Now is that there’ll be a new piece coming along in a few months’ time.

Also on show tonight was Alexander Whitley’s Kin, a piece that’s slow to get going but once it’s in its stride, it’s a joy to watch. The company danced it well; Jenna Roberts and Joseph Caley were terrific in the main pas de deux and they were swiftly followed by the hundred mile an hour spins of Tzu-Chao Chou.

Signing off Polarity & Proximity was Twyla Tharp’s calling card, In the Upper Room. It’s a happy, virtuoso piece, packed full of tiny choreographic wonders that can really expose a company’s shortcomings. While BRB weren’t always on the money, the energy and joie de vivre they brought to it was wonderful – Momoko Hirata and Miki Mizutani as the two girls who constantly spin in and off of stage were particularly good to watch – and we all went home with a smile on our face.

Gerard Davis

Advertisements
Posted in Birmingham Royal Ballet, Sadler's Wells, Twyla Tharp | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Romeo and Juliet – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, London, 12 June 2018

Similar but not the same

Romeo, Romeo, now is the splinter of our discontent. You have to hand it to Cesar Morales and Momoko Hirata in BRB’s Romeo and Juliet

This is Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet all right, it just looks different, that’s all. Birmingham Royal Ballet acquired MacMillan’s masterpiece in 1992 but both company and choreographer agreed that new designs would be in order. So out went Nicholas Georgiadis’ creations that are still in use by The Royal Ballet today, and in came new kid on the block Paul Andrews with a lighter approach that has a more intimate feel – Juliet’s bedroom, for example, is not the cavernous black hole of Covent Garden but a more homely, curtain-draped affair. Overall, however, none of it’s a million miles away from Georgiadis.

Regarding the choreography, there are a few odds and sods dotted around that are slightly different as well, but not enough to make any significant impact on what is such a brilliantly told story – it’ll still make you cry. Which is exactly what happened to much of the audience watching César Morales and Momoko Hirata in the title roles.

Morales was an excellent Romeo, both tough and tender, while Hirata physically and emotionally aged from 14 to about 40 in front of our very eyes. They convincingly portrayed a couple in love/lust with each other and Hirata created real tension with her family. Equally, her hopeless, pre-poisoning duet with Feargus Campbell’s beautifully played Paris, was devastating in its despair.

The rest of the Company looked bright with Tzu-Chao Chou standing out as a wonderfully expressive Mercutio. Kit Holder knocked out a good stint as leader of the Mandolin dance but I don’t care how authentic their ticker-tape costumes may be, they looked ridiculous. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia gave a good, dramatic account of Prokofiev’s score, and the show as a whole came together well. A fine night out at the theatre.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet runs at Sadler’s Wells until 13 June 2018. Tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Birmingham Royal Ballet, Kenneth MacMillan, Sadler's Wells | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sleeping Beauty – English National Ballet: London Coliseum, 6 January 2018

Rising to the Occasion

Alina Cojocaru is awesome in ENB’s The Sleeping Beauty. Simple as that. Photo by Laurent Liotardo

Alina Cojocaru is back! And how. After a decent warm-up in William Forsythe’s Approximate Sonata 2016 at Sadler’s Wells in April, she took to the Coliseum stage in Kenneth MacMillan’s The Sleeping Beauty for English National Ballet and she stormed it. From the moment she bounced into view she grabbed the ballet by the throat and declared it her show. The meticulous nonchalance of her Rose Adage took the breath away and her precision of movement was astonishing throughout. Over and above that, she just looked so happy dancing.

Joseph Caley gave excellent support as her Prince, the best I’ve seen him dance yet – he was composed, assured and gave plenty of emotional depth to his first, lonely solo. His partnering has come on leaps and bounds too and the pair of them made a convincing regal couple.

The whole show was good though. The first act fairies knocked their solos off with aplomb; Senri Kou managed to make some sense out of the Songbird variation with her astonishingly nimble fingers, and Rina Kanehara gave the Fairy of the Golden Vine some very welcome oomph. Kanehara shone again in the Bluebird pas de deux, making an excellent foil to Daniel McCormick and his terrific leaps; together they were a lovely pair. Unusually for ENB nowadays, the corps weren’t at their best in the vision scene, but James Streeter did a wonderful job as the crotchety Carabosse to help keep things moving.

MacMillan’s production still looks handsome, although the scrimmed set designs look a little dated now, and Nicholas Georgiadis’ costumes stand out as opulent as ever. The orchestra played at a good tempo and the show sped by, something you can rarely say about The Sleeping Beauty. It was a treat to watch and a privilege to witness Cojocaru in action.

English National Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty runs at the London Coliseum until 16 June 2018. The ENB website can give you more info and provide you with tickets.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Alina Cojocaru, English National Ballet, Joseph Caley, Kenneth MacMillan, London Coliseum | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jane Eyre – Northern Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 15 May 2018

Eyre to the throne

I’ve got a Jane in the neck. Javier Torres & Dreda Blow in Northern Ballet’s Jane Eyre. Photo by Dave Morgan

Nineteenth century British literary fiction  has something of a low profile when it comes to ballet. It’s surprising really – perhaps everyone’s too busy doing Shakespeare remakes – but Cathy Marston has proved there’s plenty of potential with her adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre for Northern Ballet.

The narrative is fairly true to the novel but, in all honesty, the first half fell flat. The choreography looked fussy, with lots of empty-gestured flat palms being thrust about. It was confusing to have someone playing Young Jane (Antoinette Brooks-Daw) who suddenly turned into Woman Jane (Dreda Blow) despite looking the same age. There was also a group of six men roaming about who appeared at vital moments for no obvious reason – symbols of patriarchal oppression maybe, but it wasn’t clear. Things perked up a bit when Javier Torres’ commanding Mr Rochester cropped up but his budding relationship with Ms Eyre lacked tension.

The second half, however, was way better. There seemed to be a lot less faffing about and a real focus on getting some emotion into the choreography. The ball scene worked brilliantly as Mrs Rochester wannabee Blanche Ingram (played beautifully by Abigail Prudames) teased the life out of Jane with her flirting of the man they both wanted. The pas de deux that followed between Jane and Rochester was even better; full of fire, big lifts and more than a touch of the Manons, it brought the whole ballet up another level. Jane’s brief affair with St. John was a tad lame (as it is in the book, to be fair), but the finale with Jane and the blinded Rochester was deeply moving and superbly acted out.

This ballet might well have been called Rochester, though; Torres dominated the show with a performance of strength, charisma and total persuasion. Blow’s Jane danced prettily and was an excellent foil but it never felt like she took control of the situation until the very end, when he needed her help. Likewise, Rochester’s mad wife, Bertha was not the ominous presence she might have been and made far less impact than Rachael Gillespie’s boundless energy as Jane’s pupil Adele Varens.

Patrick Kinmonth’s grey-slashed designs were simple but effective, as were his costumes. Philip Feeney’s score evoked a fine sense of period with some good tunes along the way and the narrative was generally easy to follow. I do hope the watching Prince Edward (patron of the Company) enjoyed himself as much as the rest of us.

Northern Ballet perform Jane Eyre at Sadler’s Wells until 19 May 2018. See the Sadler’s Wells website for tickets.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Cathy Marston, Northern Ballet, Sadler's Wells | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Voices of America – English National Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 12 April 2018

Forsythe Hindsight

Spring is in the air. ENB in William Forsythe’s Playlist (Track 1, 2)

The big news in English National Ballet’s new Mixed Bill, Voices of America, was a world premiere from William Forsythe, his first creation in the UK for 20 years. In the event, Playlist (Track 1, 2) was a rather small affair – about 10 minutes long – but it was fun while it lasted.

Forsythe’s days of shaking ballet by its throat until all the gold teeth have fallen out have long gone, but Playlist (Track 1, 2) has a carefree virtuosity that sits easily on the eye. Wearing red t-shirts with their names printed on the back, 12 men dance for the apparent joy of it, both in sync and in exuberant solos. This is nightclub ballet, the smooth dance remixes that make up the soundtrack give the feel of an Alvin Ailey piece, the bounce and skip of the dancers never waver. The ENB men looked great in it, happy as larks, and ten minutes turned out to be exactly the right length.

Approximate Sonata 2016 was also on display, something which Forsythe originally created in 1996 (although this was the reworked version he made for Paris Opera Ballet in, yup, you guessed it, 2016) which shows him at his most typically post-modernist. Backdrops rise and fall, a random ‘Yes’ sign is on stage, the music dribbles along without impetus, dancers huff and puff loudly, and choreographic phrases are started, halted and repeated. The thing is, it’s done with humour and considerable technical pizzazz, and therein lies its appeal. Not all the four couples on show caught the zip and drive of the extensions but Precious Adams really shone, especially in the ripple of her arms and the lime green of her trousers.

Jerome Robbins’ The Cage was another work in the hands of ENB for the first time. It was created in 1951 and visually it shows – the hair, costumes and spider’s web set look lost in a black and white sci-fi B-movie – but much of the choreography is excellent, with a couple of absorbing pas de deux holding everything together. Jurgita Dronina was terrific as the callously deceptive Novice giving the suitably bewildered James Streeter no chance.

The piece that opened the whole occasion was Aszure Barton’s Fantastic Beings, a work that first saw the light of day in ENB’s She Said programme. It felt too long then and it feels too long now. The snaky urgency of the neo-classical movement is fine in itself but, coupled with Mason Bates’ indeterminable music, solos and duets blur indistinguishably, leaving no room for personality or characterisation. It does, however, look beautiful and there were some fine performances throughout. But, as Playlist (Track 1, 2) showed, sometimes shorter is sweeter.

Voices of America runs at Sadler’s Wells until 21 April 2018. For tickets try the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Aszure Barton, English National Ballet, Sadler's Wells, William Forsythe | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Emily Molnar/Crystal Pite/ Sharon Eyal – Ballet British Columbia: Sadler’s Wells, 6 March 2018

BBC Heaven

They’re a closely-knit lot, Ballet British Columbia. Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo photographed by Wendy D

The first thing to say about Vancouver-based Ballet British Columbia is how fricking good the dancers are. Fantastic technique, genuine artistry and terrific musicality – they simply mean what they do. The women look equally as comfortable when bare-foot as they do on pointe, the men are in incredible shape, and together they’re all frighteningly in synch.

This was the Company’s first visit to London and if they wanted to make a good impression they succeeded. Emily Molnar’s ensemble piece 16 + a room was a fine start; the first section in particular showing the dancers at their best. On a dark, empty stage and dressed in black, their togetherness in negotiating Dirk P Haubrich’s harsh electronic rhythms was exemplary. The softer strains of the middle section, while still impressive, lagged a little and the piece had run out of steam by the end but it was nevertheless something of an eye-opener.

As is so often the case nowadays, it was Crystal Pite who provided the best work of the evening. Solo Echo was created on Nederlands Dans Theater but the Canadians have made it their own. It’s a thing of tremendous beauty; snow falling is hardly original but in an oasis of black, it looked magical. The partnering in the first section was extraordinary – performed at enormous speed, it was slick, inventive and in total harmony with Brahms’ Cello Sonata.

This is where Pite scores over so many of her rivals, and why her work is also in such demand with ballet companies – she’s so musical. But she’s not always musical in the way you expect; in Solo Echo, there’s a short sequence where the dancers stand up one by one in time to a series of plucked bass strings. At first it looks like the last guy has stood up too early, only for him to start a new movement perfectly attuned to the final note. With Pite it’s often like the dancers are fingers playing a harp.

Last up was Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s white unitard-clad Bill. It started well with a couple of excellent male solos to a screwy cha-cha-cha but then drifted off into nowhere along with Ori Lichtik’s club-like ‘soundtrack design’. There was some engaging stuttered movement akin to that in Daft Punk’s Around the World music video but the quasi-spiritual ending was out of step with everything that had bounced along before.

After one more date at Sadler’s Wells, Ballet British Columbia then head off on a three week tour of the UK that takes them to Brighton, Newcastle, Birmingham, Salford and Bradford. It’s definitely worth catching them if you can – they’re superb. You can find tickets and more info on the Dance Consortium website.

Gerard Davis

Posted in Ballet British Columbia, Crystal Pite, Emily Molnar, Sadler's Wells, Sharon Eyal | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Earth/La Sylphide – English National Ballet: London Coliseum, 9 January 2018

Soilphide

A good grounding. Tamara Rojo in Song of the Earth. Photo courtesy of The Royal Ballet

You can see why Tamara Rojo has added Kenneth MacMillan’s Song of the Earth to the repertoire of English National Ballet – Mahler’s music looks so good on her body it could make you cry. The years she spent at The Royal Ballet steeping herself in the MacMillan tradition has left a burning intensity that ripples through her every limb; the stretch of her arms, the tilt of her head, even the turn of an elbow, is suffused with a dramatic foreboding of desolation. I know that sounds pretentious but I don’t know how else to put it. She was magnificent.

Understandably, the rest of her company weren’t up to her level in this one (few in the world are) but they made a good fist of it. It’s an unforgiving piece for a small ensemble, with stylised movement and an exposing synchronisation that magnifies the smallest misdemeanour, but, on the whole, the dancers were assured, focussed and produced an intelligent performance. Fernando Carratalá Coloma gave excellent support as The Messenger of Death, Senri Kou stood out for her crisp line and Joseph Caley more than did his bit in a truly memorable duet with Rojo towards the end.

Rhonda Browne and Samuel Sakker were the thoroughly decent on-stage singers and the English National Ballet Philharmonic played Mahler’s testing score with aplomb. This is the Company’s first season performing Song of the Earth so there’s every chance it’ll get even better over the next few years.

Accompanying this deeply thoughtful piece was the altogether more svelte La Sylphide. Brought over from its Bournonville home in Copenhagen, Frank Andersen’s production is unlikely to win any Olivier Awards for stage design but it’s an entertaining romp nevertheless. The Scottish-based plot is silly (think Giselle with soft wilis, ho-ho) and characters such as Effy and Gurn verge on the irritatingly naff. ENB, however, played it with just about enough ham, epitomised by Jane Haworth’s brilliantly over-the-top wicked witch Madge.

Jurgita Dronina took on the title role and somehow turned her winningly cheeky Sylph into a distinctly moving figure  by the end. The stand-out performance belonged to her human lover James; Isaac Hernández displayed some fabulously quick feet, impressive jumps and lightning fast skips and looked truly at home in both the role and Bournonville’s specialised technique. Elsewhere, Daniel Kraus’ Gurn was suitably daft, Precious Adams was impressive as First Slyph, and the corps (as they so often are nowadays) were terrific.

Song of the Earth/La Sylphide runs at the London Coliseum until 13 January 2018. La Sylphide then carries on from 16-20 January 2018 but partnered instead with Roland Petit’s Le Jeune Homme et la Mort. Tickets and more info can be found on ENB’s website.

Gerard Davis

Posted in August Bournonville, English National Ballet, Kenneth MacMillan | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment