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

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