Sunday, 31 May 2015

Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Quatrain, Matryoshka, Beauty and the Beasrm Swan Lake, Facade, Wycombe Swan

Last Wednesday I saw the programme for Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour in Shrewsbury (see  Vaut le Voyage - Birmingham Royal Ballet in Shrewsbury 28 May 2015). Yesterday I saw the programme for its Southern Tour at the Wycombe Swan Theatre in High Wycombe. This was also a mixed bill which offered new work as well as old favourites but unlike the programme for the North the southern programme included extracts from two of the company's full length ballets, Beauty and the Beast and Swan Lake.

As I said in It Takes Three To Tango 19 May 2015 I had been attracted by new ballets from Kit Holder and Ruth Brill. I had recently seen and enjoyed two other works by Holder and also two ballets based on the music of the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla. I have always admired Brill as a dancer and I knew of her interest in choreography from a talk that she gave last year but I had never seen any of her ballets. I had expected much from both choreographers and I am glad to say that my expectations in each case were greatly exceeded.

Even though the music for Holder's Quatrain was by Piazzolla it was very different from 5 Tangos and Fatal Kiss. There was no red and black or sultry tango dancing. In fact, nothing specifically Argentinian at all.  In so far as it reminded me of anything at all it was Ashton's Symphonic Variations with its simple costumes and geometric patterns on the backdrop. In the case of Quatrain the backdrop can best be described as four converging planes which made me think of strips of graphene for some reason or other on a dark blue background.  These were echoed in the dancers' costumes which were the same colour though the patterns were a different geometric design.

The choreography was fascinating with some unusual movements such as the men appearing to sit on the women while they were on all fours as though they were settees, the women appearing to rest on the backs of the men as they adopted the same position moments later and one of the women flexing her toe in the face of a man.  You can see what I mean from the video that I have embedded above.

Karla Doorbar, Momoko HirataCéline Gittens and Yoaqian Shang danced the female roles and Jonathan Caguioa, Jamie Bond, Yasuo Atsuji and Mathias Dingman the male ones. A very strong cast for a very demanding ballet.  The work was in four movements no doubt representing the Four Seasons of Buenos Aires which was the title of the score but the ballet also owed more than a little to Vivaldi which was acknowledged in the quotation at the very end of the work.

In a talk that she gave with Jonathan Payn in the theatre's Oak Room just before the show, Brill explained that Matryoshka (the title of her ballet) is the name given for the Russian dolls that fit inside one another. She had chosen Shostakovich's Waltz No 2  which conjured up images of swirling crinolines and beaux in evening dress. Crinolines don't come cheap and obscure the dancers' legs and feet. She stripped her costumes down to essentials which were red crinoline frames against white petticoats for the women and black trousers, shirts and red cummerbunds for the men.

The choice of music and designs was inspired. They gave great scope for Brill's choreography with her serious jumps for the men and fetching and feminine gestures and movements for the women. Having danced to another work of Shostakovich's on the one and so far only occasion that I have been inflicted on the public I can say from personal experience that his music is fun to perform. Certainly, Brill's dancers - Laura DayMiki Mizutani, Lewis Turner, Caguioa and Yaoqian Shand in the Polka and Vallentin Olovyannikov, Rory Mackay and Gittens in the Waltz - looked like they were having fun. Brill said that she had created the ballet earlier this year expecting it to be a one off.  That would have been a pity. I am so glad that David Bintley chose to include it in the Southern programme. I am sure that Matryoshka will become a popular item in the company's repertoire.

The next work in the programme was a Bintley ballet - Beauty and the Beast which I saw at The Lowry last September (see Bintley's Beauty 1 Oct 2014). The scene that the company had selected was the pas de deux when Belle first meets The Beast towards the end of Act I. Doorbar was Balle and Atsuji The Beast. They danced beautifully and the crowd loved them.

Beauty was followed by the pas de quatre from Act I of Swan Lake. Although the original choreography was by Petipa there has been a lot of input from Bintley and his predecessor as Artistic Director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet Sir Peter Wright.  In that scene Siegfried (danced by Tyrone Singleton) is pondering his new responsibilities now that he has come of age which includes finding a princess to marry. His companion Benno (Dingman) tries to distract him by introducing two courtesans (Angela Paul and Laura Purkiss). This scene links Siegfried's birthday celebrations and his swan hunt where he meets Odette and it contains some real pyrotechnics with lots of jumps for Benno and some tricky turns and pointe work for the courtesans.  Despite their charms Siegfried is not in the mood for womanizing though he is up for shooting a few swans with the new bow that his mother had given him for his birthday. No ballet company can go far wrong with Swan Lake. Everyone knows and loves the music. There is nothing like a few fouettés and tours en l'air to delight an audience.

The last part of the programme was Façade, Frederick Ashton's ballet based on William Walton's setting of Edith Sitwell's nonsense poems. This is another favourite. It was first performed in 1931 by Ninette de Valois's Vic-Wells Ballet, the precursor of both the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Royal Ballet. It is a very funny, whimsical  work with colliding highland dancers, a saucy milkmaid and even a tango to make up for the one that I had expected but didn't find in Quatrain. Turner, Day and Doorbar danced Scottish Rhapsody. Brill was the milkmaid in Yodelling (charming and cheeky in pigtails and dirndl) with Joshua Lee, Jared Hinton and I think Mackay though the programme said Edivaldo Souza da Silva. Hirata danced the Polka. Payn and Caguioa danced a hilarious foxtrot with Jade Heuson and Purkiss. Lorena Agramonte, Alys Shee and Yaoqian Shang danced the Waltz with Mimi Hagihara and hung around for Bond and Dingman in striped blazers and boaters to perform the Popular Song. Finally Paul and Mackay danced the Tango Pasodoble to strains of Beside the Seaside.  A few minutes after the curtain fell the audience heard a muffled cheer from the stage. I don't know whether we were supposed to hear it but we did and it amused us and delighted us all the more.

I have already mentioned the talk before the show. I find such talks very useful though I rarely manage to attend them. Payn and Brill introduced themselves and told us how they came into dancing and summarized their careers to date. Then they talked about the show.  Brill also told us how she had created Matryoshka. Though I try not to have favourites we balletomanes just can't help ourselves. I do delight in watching her dance because she loves to dance. I suppose all dancers who reach that standard must do so but she radiates her joy even more than most. I have had the pleasure of meeting her briefly off stage through the London Ballet Circle on two occasions and can report that she is as graceful with her public off stage as she is delightful as a dancer.

It was good also to hear Payn. He too delighted me on stage last night. He explained that he was standing in for Holder who had done similar talks in the other venues. Holder asked to be excused last night because yesterday was the Cup Final and he is an Aston Villa supporter. I hope he is not too disappointed with the result. His team did very well just to reach Wembley. If it is any comfort to him he delighted a lot of folk in High Wycombe last night.

I should say a word about the theatre. It is situated on the edge of the town centre with its own car park which operates an ingenious number plate recognition system.  Motorists don't need to pay and display or even pick up a ticket. The registration number is stored in the computer and you key in that number into a touch screen terminal when you leave. The computer calculates the charge which you pay in coins. Alternatively, you can pay on-line. I do wish other car parks operated that system. There is a restaurant and bar with very helpful staff and managers, They served up cranachan - one of my favourite puddings - which I last savoured with Michelle Hynes of Inksters at a restaurant in Merchant City in Glasgow in 2010. I like this theatre very much and I look forward to returning in the Autumn to see the Royal New Zealand Ballet's Giselle.

When I reviewed the Birmingham Royal Ballet's show in Shrewsbury I mentioned my own connections with Shropshire. On the long drive south I listed to Peter Day's Saturday Classics. Imagine my delight when Day chose John Betjamen's A Shropshire Lad.

I have now seen both the Northern and Southern programmes of the Birmingham Royal Ballet this month and I enjoyed them both enormously.  I have even attended a talk by David Binttey,  I look forward to his Carmina Burana and The King Dances in Birmingham on 20 June 2015.

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