Wink/The Moor’s Pavane/The Shakespeare Suite – Birmingham Royal Ballet: Sadler’s Wells, 10 October 2016

Willing it on

'No, really, I can look after my own scarf, thank you.' Desdemona should have listened to the voices in her head in Jose Limon's The Moor's Pavane. Photo by Andrew Ross

‘No, really, I can look after my own scarf thank you.’ Desdemona tries to stick to her guns in Jose Limon’s The Moor’s Pavane. Photo by Andrew Ross

It’s right that the greatest ever Brummie, William Shakespeare, should have his legacy celebrated by Birmingham Royal Ballet. Whether this Triple Bill was the best way to do it remains to be seen.

Jessica Lang’s Wink was up first. Read aloud by Alfie Jones, five of Shakespeare’s sonnets form the backbone of the work, interspersed with music by Jakub Ciupinski. The end result is nowhere near as interesting as it should be.

Peter Teigen’s rust-coloured lighting has a beautiful autumnal feel and the costumes a fresh, modern look that flatters the dancers’ bodies. The big drawback is that Lang’s choreography is rather bland; perfectly pretty but indistinct and heading nowhere. Brandon Lawrence stood out for his elegant and unhurried manner but quite what the small revolving panels that lined the stage were for is anyone’s guess.

Created in 1949, José Limón’s The Moor’s Pavane shows its age but retains plenty of interest; its steady pacing and slow unfurling of the Othello narrative wins over any initial misgivings with the highly stylised posturing. Placing it within the formalism of Renaissance dancing and focussing heavily on individual characterisations helps give it an hypnotic appeal that reaches out beyond mere historical references. Tyrone Singleton, Delia Mathews, Iain Mackay and Samara Downs all gave the piece a satisfying emotional resonance.

Poor old Desdemona finds herself having to die all over again in David Bintley’s The Shakespeare Suite. Her cold-blooded murder at the hands of Tyrone Singleton’s impressively callous Othello is repeated with far more shocking brutality here, something quite at odds with the joie de vivre of the rest of the piece.

The jazz of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn rings out wonderfully from the instruments of Colin Towns’ Mask Orchestra while a number of Shakespeare’s characters get their turn to ham things up in the spotlight, mainly for laughs. Inevitably some come out better than others – the view that what women really want is to be bullied by their spouse just isn’t funny, even under the guise of The Taming of the Shrew – but for the most part The Shakespeare Suite is good fun.

Céline Gittens and her long, long legs worked wonders as Lady Macbeth, Kit Holder and Momoko Hirata made a charming Bottom and Titania respectively and Mathias Dingman was an unexpectedly sprightly Hamlet. The last movement where everyone came together in a rush of sweeping legs was a great watch and finished the night on a welcome high.

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Triple Bill continues at Sadler’s Wells until 11 October 2016. Tickets can be found on the Sadler’s Wells website, as can those for David Bintley’s newest creation The Tempest which runs from 13 – 15 October 2016.

Gerard Davis

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