Sunday 9 October 2016

The Tempest

Birmingham Royal Ballet, The Tempest, The Hippodrome, Birmingham, 8 Oct 2016, 19:00

Even before the curtain rose I knew I was in for a treat. The clues lay in the blue curtain with its lines suggesting a swirling ocean with a tiny bejewelled model barque in the centre together with the cries of seagulls and a gentle lapping of waves. The lights dimmed and the silhouette of a seemingly floating figure approached the model and carried it away. The curtain rose and the scene changed to a ship's bridge with jolly, dancing mariners whose mood swiftly changed as flashes of light indicated that their ship was entering a storm.

It often takes time for me to get to like a new ballet. It took two years for me to appreciate Christopher Wheeldon's The Winter's Tale (see Royal Ballet "The Winter's Tale" 14 April 2014 and The Winter's Tale Revisited - Some Ballets are better Second Time Round 20 April 2016) and I am still not there with Jonathan Watkins's 1984 (see My First Impressions of 1984 12 Sept 2015 and 1984 Second Time Round 24 Oct 2015).  The Tempest is different in that it was love at first sight. I think it is my favourite work by David Bintley so far. In fact, I can't remember a time when I was as excited as I am now about a new British full length ballet since the days of Sir Frederick Ashton.

David Bintley's libretto follows Shakespeare pretty faithfully (see "The Plot" in Wikipedia's entry on The Tempest). It makes powerful roles for ProsperoMiranda, Ferdinand, Ariel and Caliban. Prospero's masque for Miranda and Ferdinand provides a splendid opportunity for a delightful divertissement that included charming dancers for Ceres and Juno as well as other classical deities. The antics of the drunkards provide another opportunity, especially when they discover the dressing up box in Prospero's cave after which they are set upon by a pack of dog shaped spirits. 

Although the ballet - like the play - is about raw human emotions such as greed, resentment, ambition as well as love it is leavened by those divertissements.  The need for such relief in the form of divertissements was understood by Petipa and indeed by Ashton and Bintley as it was by Shakespeare. The complete absence of such relief, as in Akram Khan's Giselle, makes for a very drab work indeed. As I noted in my review of the remake:
"At least in the traditional Giselle there are some happy bits such as the crowning of Giselle as harvest queen. There was nothing like than in Khan's. Just a morose folk dance for the landlords who were heralded by blasts that sounded like factory sirens or perhaps fog horns. Very intense and just a little depressing."
The freshness and exuberance of the work continued even into the reverence which was a little ballet in itself. The dancers did not simply bow or curtsy.  They danced into their applause. This performance really did deserve a standing ovation and I was one of several who rose at the curtain call.

Last night, Prospero was danced magnificently by Iain Mackay, Miranda delightfully by Jenna Roberts and Ferdinand plaintively by Joseph Caley. Mathias Dingman was a great Ariel and Tyrone Singleton a fine Caliban. It was good to see Michael O'Hare as Alonso and Céline Gittens as Ceres and Delia Matthews as Juno and Prospero's wife. There was superb character dancing from James Barton a the jester and Valentin Olovyannikov as the drunken butler.  As I say so frequently whenever I see this magnificent company, everyone in the show danced well.

Bintley's choreography was (as always) sparkling. There were spectacular chaînés and  fouettés for Ariel, beautiful pas de deux for Ferdiand and Miranda after they first met and as their love developed, delightful dances for Ceres and Juno and plenty of arabesques and opportunities to admire the corps. According to Gerald Dowler's programme note this ballet had been 30 years in the making and the reason for the long gestation is that Bintley had been waiting for the right composer. Quoting Bintley, Dowler wrote:
"I heard Sally Beamish's music in 2012 and it all seemed to fall into place."
It was well worth the wait. Beamish's score was enchanting. I particularly liked her use of the flute to indicate voices or underscore excitement. Equally impressive were Rae Smith's designs. The waves and ship were even more realistic than in The Winter's Tale. The peacock throne was especially impressive. All the more remarkable as the sets have to be portable as this ballet is to be taken on tour.  Combined with Bruno Poet's lighting, something close to magic was created on stage.

Now this ballet really will last. It was created in collaboration with the Houston Ballet Foundation and the Houston Ballet will present it to American audiences in Spring.  If I know Americans - and as a graduate of one of their finest universities and have made many trips to their shores I think I do - they will relish this production at least as much as I do. So, too, will audiences in the rest of the world.

No comments:

Post a Comment