The Tempest- plots a plenty and a lovers’ waltz




A second member of our reviewing team, Simon Hale, assesses the world premiere of the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s The Tempest.


With its colourful characters, music and dance scenes and magical machinations, Shakespeare’s play The Tempest  is a tempting choice to turn into a ballet.

Birmingham Royal Ballet director David Bintleyad been thinking so for thirty years but was waiting for the right composer and designer to come along. He found them in Sally Beamish who has created a score both lyrical and edgy that ebbs and flows with the action and in Rae Smith whose spectacular sets and Elizabethan-style costumes recreate a shining but also murky age in this world premiere at The Birmingham Hippodrome.

The gentle wash of water and a small golden ship glistening through thin canvas give little clue to the dark and enchanting world we are about to enter as Prospero (Iain Mackay) uses his magic powers to gain his revenge on those responsible for usurping his crown.

An androgynous-looking Ariel, danced and flown by Mathias Dingman, is Prospero’s spirit who turns billowing sails into giant waves and the setting sun into a banquet lit by a huge candelabra.

His first role is to shipwreck a royal marriage party on the shore of Prospero’s island whose only other human inhabitants are his daughter Miranda (Jenna Roberts) and the grotesque hermit crab-like creature Caliban (Tyrone Singleton).

Alonso, the king of Naples (Michael O’Hare) his brother Sebastian (Lewis Turner) and Antonio Dominic Antonucci), who deposed Prospero as Duke of Milan strut around in silent acting roles among their retinue. Without the words of the play, it’s all the guide the audience gets as to what is going on but it also leaves the production short on dancing.

Indeed there is a great deal going on, with plots aplenty and all kinds of people and creatures frantically entering and leaving the stage, and unless you read the story on the back of the cast list you could get as easily lost as the shipwrecked sailors.

Alonso’s son Ferdinand (Joseph Caley), who is washed up on another part of the island, falls immediately in love with Miranda just as Prospero commands, The couple dance beautifully together to a lover’s waltz with the sylph-like Jenna Roberts revealing all the thrill, excitement and curiosity of meeting the first man other than her father that she had ever seen. It’s a pity there was no final pas de deux to celebrate their nuptials..

The comic roles were played in true silent film comedy fashion by James Barton as the Court jester and Valentin Olovyannikov as the drunken butler, both more obsessed with trying on Prospero’s clothes than murdering him, much to the despair of Singleton’s suitably servile Caliban.

Delia Mathews’ Juno excelled as the Goddess of marriage, dancing gracefully en pointe with doves swarming above her, helping to bring the story to a happy ending where everyone learns a lesson, even Prospero as he finally chooses forgiveness over vengeance.

This production places more focus on the storytelling than the dancing but it’s still a fitting tribute to the Bard in the 400th anniversary of his death. A final word of salutation goes to Koen Kessels and the Royal Ballet Sinfonia for introducing such a thrilling new work to the ballet music repertoire.

Read Richard Lutz’s review here: