Thursday 21 May 2015

Birmingham Royal Ballet in York

Grand Opera House, York, 20 May 2015

This month the Birmingham Royal Ballet split in two. One part is touring York, Nottingham, Durham and Shrewsbury ("the Northern tour"). The other Truro, Poole, Cheltenham and High Wycombe ("the Southern tour"). The Northern tour is dancing Les Rendezvous, Kin and Elite Syncopations which I believe the Southern tour danced last year. I caught the Northern tour at the Grand Opera House in York yesterday.

I had been to the Grand Opera House once before. My late spouse and I celebrated our silver wedding anniversary by watching the Yorkshire Ballet Summer School gala there on the 29 July 2007. I remember that evening for all sorts of reasons. I had already started a course of endocrinology that was already changing my appearance. I was about to change my name and dress under clinical supervision which was likely to add all sorts of complexities to our marriage. My late spouse was already tiring and faltering for no apparent reason. Symptoms of an illness that was eventually diagnosed as motor neurone disease. It was a lovely evening which we knew would be our last as a conventional couple. We had intended to continue celebrating the anniversary come even after I had changed my name and status. What we did not know was that it would be our last anniversary celebration ever.

I did not keep this blog in 2007 but I have located a review of the gala by Charles Hutchinson which appeared in The Press on 31 July 2007. It was the first time I saw Xander and Demelza Parish and they stick in my memory because their performance in Christopher Hampson's Echoes was outstanding. I expected them both to go far but I did not expect that the next time I would see Xander would be in the title role of Romeo and Juliet with the Mariinsky at Covent Garden (see Reet Gradely: Romeo and Juliet, Mariinsky Ballet, Royal Opera House 29 July 2014 31 July 2014). There were many other stars that night such as Warne Sleep, Lauren Cuthbertson, Marianella Núñez, Samara Downs and of course Marguerite Porter.  It was altogether a wonderful evening.

I saw the delightful Downs again last night dancing the Calliope rag sexily and sultrily in Kenneth MacMillan's Elite Syncopations. We had also expected to see her in Alexander Whitley's Kin but sadly that was not to be. Towards the end of the first and as it happened only interval Marion Tait squeezed through the curtains and welcomed us to the show. "If only that was all I had to say", she continued, but alas we learned that Delia Mathews had sustained an injury in Les Rendezvous and had to be rushed to hospital. As she was to be the lead female dancer in Kin it could not be performed without her. So the stage had to be set for Elite Syncopations which Tait said that she knew we would enjoy.

Had such an announcement been made at a rock concert, football match or some other entertainment the audience would have taken it badly but ballet is different. We know that every performance is subject to the artist's availability, that injury is a constant worry for dancers and that sometimes there have to be cast changes or even cancellations. Throughout the auditorium there was a surge of sympathy for Mathews. Ballet is like a family even for the audience and everyone was concerned for her as we would be concerned for a family member. We couldn't help noticing the incident which came towards the end of the ballet but it was over in a trice. Brave lady and pro that she is, she picked herself up in a trice and continued to dance gracefully off stage even though she must have been in considerable pain. Although Tait said the injury was serious I was relieved to learn from a manager that it was muscular and there was no damage to a tendon. There is every hope that she will make a full recovery. Like everyone who was in the theatre I send her my love and wish her well.

While the evening was shorter than I had expected it was every bit as good as I had hoped for. Ahston's Les Rendezvous to Auber's music as arranged and orchestrated by Constant Lambert was delightful. Sadly no programmes were on sale last night because someone had sent the wrong ones to York but I had seen the ballet before and knew that it was one of Ashton's first works. According to Wikipedia it was first performed by the Vic-Wells Ballet in 1933. The costumes and the backdrop had a period feel and I thought they must have been the original designs until I read that they had been created by Anthony Ward. I loved the women's dresses with large polka dots and the men's blazers in different colours. Quite like the Stewards enclosure at Henley. Mathews danced beautifully in Les Rendezvous as indeed did everyone. But if I have to single out anyone it has to be Brandon Lawrence, a Bradford lad who clearly relished his return to God's own county. He danced proudly and magisterially. There was no doubt that he was glad to be back on home turf.

Though they must have been concerned for their colleague the dancers and orchestra gave Elite Syncopations their all. For those who have not seen it,this ballet was created by Kenneth MacMillan a few years after he had succeeded Ashton as principal choreographer at Covent Garden. The music is by Scott Joplin and it is delivered by the musicians on stage. Each of the dancers does a turn. I have already mentioned Downs's Calliope which everyone loved but there were more delights: Reiina Fuchigami and Oliver Till in The Golden Hours, Yvette Knight's Stoptime Rag, James Barton and Yijing Zhang in The Alaskan Rag, Chi Cao's exuberant Friday Night and the whole cast's joyful entry and exit.

Like the 2007 gala I shall remember yesterday as an evening of great ballet. The company had a good audience. There was thunderous applause at the end including some serious amphitheatre style whooping from a gent in one of the rows behind me. York has an opera house that is grand in more than name only.

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