The fire and fury of a world premiere

Richard Lutz takes his pew at the Birmingham Hippodrome for dance with fire in its soul.


Well, there’s nothing like a world premiere on your doorstep. Birmingham Royal Ballet uses nothing less than the  burning of Parliament 184 years ago to create real heat on the Hippodrome floor in its new production, called Ignite. It’s based on an incandescent Turner painting of the blaze that consumed Westminster and reduced it to ashes in 1834. Turner himself hired a boat to grab a close look at the disaster.

The choreography by Juanjo Arques reflects the conflagration: Red- and orange-costumed dancers swirl almost out of control. Fire, you have to admit, changes constantly in shape and intensity. The troupe used this in movement and the startling backdrop of an angled mirror that was a signpost for the swirling Thames that moved past Parliament as it burned.

Ignite translates the fiery drama, the heated colours and even the grey of the ashes and gives a dynamic to Turner’s static oil painting. The work ends with the dancers slowly moving ghostlike towards the audience, the music stopping with only the ominous crackling of a building on fire rumbling below. It’s an evocative and beautifully-done piece.

Opening the double bill was a BRB classic, though only three years old. The King Dances is ballet with a history that goes back another 200 years before Turner and Co. It is 1653 and the young King Louis – Le Roi Soleil – actually danced in what is believed to have been a twelve hour ballet.

He loved choreography and this blingy piece makes for vivid viewing. Choreographer David Bintley allows dancer Max Maslen to transform from an earthbound royal to a Sun King emblazoned in gold with a crown of light surrounding him. This is a blast from the rococo past and its other-worldliness with its devils, its werewolves and its gods and goblins makes a stark contrast to the rigid style of England at the same time – Cromwellian sobriety and reaction to flamboyance.

Fire and Fury runs until 6th October at the Birmingham Hippodrome