Ballet is woman. Ballet is man. Sometimes with big moustaches.
The main feature of the Triple Bill Birmingham Royal Ballet brought to Sadler’s Wells was the London premiere of David Bintley’s The King Dances. Based loosely on the Le Ballet de la Nuit, the ballet that introduced King Louis XIV to the world as the Sun King, it wielded a shiny aesthetic as grandly superficial as the life of Apollo’s angel is pertained to have been.
In gold-hued darkness, androgynous male dancers in skirts and dresses flitted between neo-17th century courtly moves and more modern virtuosity while devils flung themselves around and ‘women’ submerged in hair whirled about. Through it all William Bracewell’s Le Roi went through the stages of love and torment to emerge as garishly gold as is possible to be.
The choreography wasn’t particularly complex but it was striking in its forcefulness (exemplified by the snapped menace of Tyrone Singleton’s various demonic guises) and in its group patterns. The King Dances relied mainly on atmosphere to sustain interest; the suffuse lighting, the flaming torches and the excellent use of the shadows of the stage all lent a hand to create a densely packed visual universe that was a joy to behold.
Added to that was Stephen Montague’s specially commissioned score that veered on dissonant but held itself together with screaming strings and all sorts of interesting sounds coming from the percussion. It was interesting enough in itself but it also pulled off the rare trick of enhancing what was happening on stage without distracting from it. Top marks all round, I’d say.
Prior to that we’d seen Frederick Ashton’s Edwardian knockabout Enigma Variations, a piece I struggle with to be honest. I just don’t get the humour. All the pipe-smoking, ankle-kicking, bike–riding buffoonery just seems so puerile. However, I do like the way the enormous orchestral sweep of the Nimrod variation is given very sparse, quite static choreography as though Ashton just wanted us to listen to the music.
Performance of the evening came in the opening work, Balanchine’s Theme and Variations. Momoko Hirata was simply beautiful. Lyrical, fluid and totally unhurried she brought an elegance to her dancing that matched the sumptuous staging and tutus. Ably supported by Joseph Caley, the pair of them dazzled. The Sun King himself might have gone green at the sight of them.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Triple Bill continues at Sadler’s Wells until 17 October 2015. Tickets can be found and bought on the Sadler’s Wells website.