Simon Hale is enchanted by the BRB.
Birmingham Royal Ballet’s annual evening of music and dance at Symphony Hall proved an occasion fit for royalty – which was appropriate given that the programme is to be performed at Buckingham Palace.
BRB’s dancers and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia delivered a range of popular classics and more, including extracts from the season’s new shows, but you wonder if royalty will receive a similar address.
“We thought of doing a concert with a Brexit theme, with all-British works in the first half and European in the second – and this worked until we reached Aladdin,” BRB Director David Bintley told the audience.
“Then another force was an invitation to perform at a gala at Buckingham Palace,” he continued. “You can look on this evening as a great preview of what Prince Charles will not have seen.”
Beginning with an evocative waltz from Richard Rodney Bennett’s Murder on the Orient Express, Arthur Sullivan’s patriotic comic ballet Pineapple Poll looked back to a post-Brexit world. The finale in which local Portsmouth ladies sneak on board ship dressed as sailors to make merry with the crew and Britannia appears draped in a Union Flag was danced with jaunty and jingoistic aplomb.
We were reminded in the programme notes that what many of us regard as typically English music had foreign influences. Sullivan himself was Irish, while Elgar’s noble, passionate ‘English’ style is derived from 19th century central-European romanticism. Brooke Ray and William Bracewell personified that romantic style in a beautiful pas de deux to Elgar’s lyrical miniature Chanson de matin in a world premiere choreographed by BRB dancer Kit Holder.
Jenna Roberts helped provide the highlight of the first half of the programme making her debut as the feisty Bathsheba Everdene in a thrillingly intense sword pas de deux with Iain Mackay’s Sergeant Troy in David Bintley’s Far from the Madding Crowd, to Paul Reade’s dramatic melodic music.
Delius’s On Hearing the First Cuckoo in Spring, the Storm from Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes, and Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Greensleeves, all performed admirably by the sinfonia under the baton of Paul Murphy, also helped take the audience into the interval happy.
The more than fifty -strong ensemble led us in the second half of the programme to Vienna for Johann Strauss II’s Tik-Tak Polka, to Finland for Sibelius’s Andante festivo, and then to Russia for a suite from Glazunov’s ballet The Seasons to complete the purely orchestral element of the evening. Meanwhile BRB showed its strength in depth in the Wedding pas de deux and Lion Dance from Bintley’s Aladdin, with first artists Karla Doorbar and Lachlan Monaghan dancing mesmerically together to the melodic score by American Carl Davis.
The Ear of Corn pas de deux and Friends’ Dance from Coppélia were also danced beautifully, with Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton, at their shining best, providing a wonderful foretaste of what to expect when the company stages this charming Bintley choreographed work with its rhapsodic score by Delibes in Birmingham next month.
The evening was rounded off by a virtuoso performance from two of the company’s most talented principals, with Momoko Hirata and Mathias Dingman performing the pas de deux from Boris Asafiev’s The Flames of Paris, a tale of revolution against a ruling elite that fitted Soviet ideology like a glove.
We were reminded again of Brexit when David Bintley asked the audience to take the theme of the evening “with the sense of humour in which it was intended”. But after listing the many countries that the company’s dancers come from, he added a serious note: “Let’s hope Brexit doesn’t stop people from across the world from bringing their talents here.” It was a sentiment that should be echoed in other places.
Birmingham Royal Ballet will be performing Coppélia at Birmingham Hippodrome from June 13th-17th. For tickets go to www.birminghamhippodrome.com