In no physical way does Le Baiser de la Fée resemble a London bus but it is true that you wait years to see one and then two come along at once. Just weeks after Scottish Ballet presented their re-creation of Kenneth MacMillan’s version of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale at Covent Garden, Birmingham Royal Ballet show off their 2008 one, choreographed by Michael Corder, at Sadler’s Wells.
Having watched both I reluctantly conclude that Stravinsky provided too much music for the story. The result is overlong pas de deux and laborious passages with nothing of narrative relevance happening. Nevertheless, there’s still plenty to admire in Corder’s re-telling; his more classical style choreography suits the Tchaikovsky-esque score better.
The main plus point with tonight’s performance was the quality of the dancing. Céline Gittens was all poise and nasty intentions as the wicked fairy who seduces a groom away from his bride-to-be; I really could watch her all night. Mathias Dingman convinced as the duped Young Man and showed a clean technique in his variations. His Bride, Miki Mizutani, was also lovely to watch, pretty in both footwork and demeanour, and she caught her character’s innocence beautifully.
John F. Macfarlane’s costumes were good and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia played Stravinsky’s subdued score with real elegance but I can’t honestly say that I’d be in any great hurry to see Le Baiser de la Fée again. It feels like something of a shame because there’s probably a great ballet in that story somewhere.
Storytelling also popped up as an issue in Ruth Brill’s look at the ancient Greek myth of Arcadia; it never seemed to quite make up its mind whether it wanted to be narrative or abstract. However, considering that it’s Brill’s first formal Main Stage commission for the Company and that she‘s still plying her trade as a First Artist in Birmingham, it’s not a bad start at all.
She set the tone beautifully; a preening yet mysterious solo for Pan in front of three vulvic forest clearings, each containing an elemental nymph. The nymphs dance with Pan before a goddess of the moon appears who seems to have a liking for the half-man, half-goat creature. The inherent sexuality was underplayed and, to the work’s benefit, a suggestive eroticism took its stead.
Tyrone Singleton was fabulous as Pan; arrogant and self-obsessed, yes, but also vulnerable and desirable. Delia Mathews was technically on the ball as the moon goddess but lacked seductive allure. The mostly superfluous corps were well drilled but what gave Arcadia a welcome, if occasionally combative kick, was the North African, Latino, full-on 70s US cop show jazz of John Harle’s score. It’s a very excitable stretch of music, really well-played by Harle himself and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, that rarely reflects what’s happening on stage but somehow complements it.
The grand finale of this Mixed Bill was David Bintley’s much-vaunted ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café. It’s not a piece I’ve ever fallen in love with and I didn’t tonight either. I don’t get on with Simon Jeffes’ music, Hayden Griffin’s designs look weak to me and the choreography is too twee to bring home its powerful environmental message. That all said, as always, just about everyone else in the theatre loved it, and I have to confess that even I have a soft spot for the cutesy jigs of Homboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk Flea.