A Night at the Museum: “a wonderful opportunity.”

Jessica Harris watches Birmingham Royal Ballet visit Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery,

‘Ballet Everywhere’ is an ambitious mission but Birmingham Royal Ballet seems determined to make this happen. And the city of Birmingham is in its sight. Its collaboration with the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery was just the latest of its initiatives to share the thrill of ballet with as wide an audience as possible.

Juxtaposed with BM&AG’s Victorian Radicals exhibition, the first comprehensive showing of its Pre-Raphaelite and Arts and Crafts collections in Birmingham for over five years, A Night at the Museum on 27th June was a tribute to the city’s artistic heartbeat, and to the importance of its arts and cultural sector as a driver for creativity and innovation.

The event involved a take-over by BRB of some of the Museum’s spaces, allowing us to experience its work up close in unexpected ways. Whilst much of the museum and art gallery is currently undergoing major refurbishment, its Waterhall was opened up for pop-up performances of extracts from BRB’s best known ballets, along with a World Premiere of Melody in Three, a piece commissioned by the London Ballet Circle.

Dancers from BRB and its training company, BRB2, performed solos and duets to an audience close enough to see every movement and to hear every breath. First up were solos of the three Fairies, Joy, Modesty and Song, from BRB’s 40-year-old ballet, The Sleeping Beauty. Next was the pas de deux of Odette and Prince Siegfried from Swan Lake, followed by the pas de deux of The Sugar Plum Fairy and The Prince from The Nutcracker.

Between each piece, dancers talked briefly about how they felt about their roles – a wonderful opportunity to get to know them on a more personal level and to gain insight into the extraordinary technical requirements of the ballets. One dancer spoke of the strength and dexterity required to hold a pose, and of the significance of this moment in time and space a means of conveying emotion. Indeed, much of the joy of being so close to the dancers was in seeing their ability to convey feelings, as well as appreciating their wonderful artistry.

Melody in Three, choreographed by Olivia Chang Clarke, one of BRB’s young dancers who trained at Elmhurst Ballet School also in Birmingham, was an ensemble piece full of energy and humour. Music was performed by students from Birmingham Conservatoire, another example of collaboration and of professional development opportunities.

In the Museum & Art Gallery’s Gas Hall, a pas de deux from Melody in Three was performed by Reina Fuchigami and Shuailun Wu. An interactive motion tracking system transformed their movement into a digital art display behind them, turning passages of dynamic dance and moments of stillness into a different medium that felt as alive as they did.

Just outside the performance area were Edward Burne-Jones’s four paintings on the theme of Pygmalion and the Image, their contrast of human flesh with strong sculptural forms providing a brilliant analogy for the ballet.

For further information visit brb.org.uk or birminghammuseums.org.uk.