Penguin Cafe Triple Bill – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 15 October 2013

Fires in the wires

Samara Downs somehow gets an accordion stuck on her head in BRB's e=mc2. Photo by Bill Cooper

Samara Downs somehow gets an accordion stuck on her head in BRB’s E=mc2. Photo by Bill Cooper

As Company artistic director David Bintley himself explained to a patiently waiting Sadler’s Wells audience, a couple of electrical fires earlier in the day had caused problems with some of the theatre’s fly bars and he was concerned that some of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s opening night trio of his own works may not appear entirely as he intended. Having seen none of them before I took the performed works at face value although fortunately there didn’t seem to be anything obviously wrong.

The real crowd-puller here was rare chance in London to see ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, originally created for The Royal Ballet in 1988. I can see why people might enjoy the cutesy masks and costumes but its twee anthropomorphising of endangered animals left me cold. The band were good however, especially the percussion in the big Latino number and, despite myself, I couldn’t help but smile at Laura Day’s chirpy Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk Flea

The middle work on the bill, Tombeaux, fell a bit flat. It’s a pretty piece with the girls’ deep blue tutus and a long and tricky series of duets ably performed by Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley but William Walton’s score was a bit limp and neither the dancing nor the music really fed into each other to any great effect.

The rigorously scientifically based E=mc2 was a different matter entirely; four distinct musical movements by Matthew Hindson worked in tandem with four startlingly different choreographic responses. The dissonantly dark and steamy first movement, Energy, provoked an exciting sprawl of bodies full of regal hand-flicking and exuberant interchanging lines. Second movement Mass was a lyrically gentle arrangement of harp and strings and the superb ensemble dancing featured smooth arabesques transforming into silky swoops amid deft transportations of human cargo. The opening sequence where the three girls were lifted up from darkness into light was stunning.

Portraying the frightening consequences of nuclear power, Manhattan Project showed Samara Downs’ sole Kabuki dancer battling choreographically against a howling sonic roar. It was incredibly powerful in its starkness and intensity. Sadly, the final movement, Celeritas2, suffered from an over-abundance of skipping and fey back-kicks. No matter, it couldn’t disguise the sheer beauty and invention of the rest of the work. E=mc2 makes this Triple Bill worth the admission fee alone.

Birmingham Royal Ballet perform the Penguin Café Triple Bill again at Sadler’s Wells on 16 October and also run with The Sleeping Beauty from 17-19 October 2013. Tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website.

Gerard Davis

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