Thursday, 22 June 2017

Birmingham Royal Ballet's Three Short Ballets: Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia

Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence in Ruth Brill's Arcadia
Photo Ty Singleton
© 2017  Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company




























Birmingham Royal Ballet Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll and Arcadia, Birmingham Hippodrome, 21 June 2017, 19:30

The strength of the Birmingham Royal Ballet was on display last night with important works from three generations of choreographers:
  • John Cranko's Pineapple Poll from the company's early days;
  • Michael Corder's Le Baiser de la fée from its recent past; and
  • Ruth Brill's Arcadia which may be a glimpse of its future.
The ballets were presented in reverse order.

By any measure, Arcadia is an important ballet and there are two reasons for its importance. 

First, its artistic quality with a powerful score by saxophonist John Harle, striking designs by Atena Ameri, ingenious lighting by Peter Teigen and of course inspired choreography by Ruth Brill beautifully executed by Brandon LawrenceCéline Gittens as the moon goddess Selene, Brooke RayYijing Zhang and Delia Mathews as the nymphs Pitys, Syrinx and Echo and a chorus that consisted of Laura Day, Karla Doorbar, Reina Fuchigami, Miki Mizutani, Anna Monleon, Alexander Bird, Feargus Campbell, Max Maslen, Lachlan Monaghan and Lewis Turner. 

Secondly, its timing. In the programme, Ruth Brill writes:
"The ballet opens as Pan watches over the nymphs Pitys, Syrinx and Echo from the shadows, In Pan's paradise he is worshipped by his subjects, the chorus. As night falls, Pan is left alone. Selene, the beautiful goddess of the moon appears. Through their interaction, Pan is transformed. Selene uplifts him to become both a better man and a better leader. Finally, we see an Arcadia, now harmonious, after Pan learns that to connect with his people he must respect them. The change in Pan is reflected by the emergence of a more loving and united society."
Now what could be apter than those sentiments after a bruising referendum and general election, the tragedy of Grenfell Tower and the outrages at Finsbury Park, Borough Market, Westminster Bridge and Manchester?

In my preview, Ruth Brill's Arcadia, 16 Dec 2016 I tipped Arcadia as "one of the works to look out for in the coming year".  Having seen Matryoshka two years ago (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe 31 May 2015) I expected Arcadia to be good but my expectations were exceeded greatly. Arcadia was of quite a different order to Matryoshka. In the medieval guilds, the apprentice craftsman proved his readiness to join the masters with a masterpiece and that is exactly what Brill has done with Arcadia. It is no longer appropriate to refer to her as a "promising" or "up and coming" choreographer. With this work, she is undeniably an established choreographer and, in my humble opinion, she is likely to become a great one.

Jenna Roberts  and artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet in
Le Baiser de la fée

Photo Bill Cooper
© 2017  Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company




























Michael Corder's Le Baiser de la fée is based on Hans Christian Andersen's Ice Maiden.  I watched this ballet with Gita who had previously seen Ratmansky's version for Miami City Ballet (see Gita Mistry Attending the Ballet in Florida: Miami City Ballet's Program Three 6 March 2017) and I had seen Donald MacLeary's reconstruction of part of Kenneth MacMillan's version with James Hay in Pavlova's sitting room (see A Minor Miracle - Bringing Le Baiser de la fée back to Life 2 June 2014). The synopsis of Corder's ballet is very much the same as Ratmansky's and he also uses Stravinsky's score. The ballet contains one strong male role (the young man) for Joseph Caley and three strong female ones for the young man's mother (Daria Stanciulescu), his fiancée  (Momoko Hirata) and the fairy who had selected him for her own (Jenna Roberts).

In the interval, I asked Gita which of the two versions of the ballet that she had seen recently she preferred. She replied that she enjoyed them both. Perhaps because this year is the 25th since his death I had driven to Birmingham expecting MacMillan. I found Corder instead but was not in the least disappointed. I am a big fan of Caley, Roberts and Hirata. I loved the sets and costumes. With Sir Matthew Bourne's The Red Shoes, David Nixon's The Little Mermaid and Paul Chantry's The Sandman we shall see quite a lot of ballets based on Hans Christian Andersen this year. Last night's performance has whetted my appetite.

Pineapple Poll
Photo Roy Smiljanic
© 2017  Birmingham Royal Ballet: all rights reserved
Reproduced with the kind permission of the company

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The evening ended with a favourite work by my all-time favourite choreographer which has a personal as well as balletic significance for me as I explained in Doing the Splits 8 May 2016.  Since writing that preview I have seen the work performed by the company at York which I reviewed in Birmingham Royal Ballet's Northern Tour 2017 13 May 2017:
"Pineapple Poll with its synopsis based on W S Gilbert's ballad The Bumboat's Woman's Story, Charles Mackerras's arrangement of a selection of Gilbert and Sullivan's favourite tunes and Osbert Lancaster's intricate designs was a wonderful way to round off a wonderful evening. Yesterday it occurred to me that this work may well have inspired Ashton to create Fille and Balanchine to create Union Jack. There is certainly a link in Osbert Lancaster in that he created the designs for both Poll and Fille and the exuberance of Mackerras's arrangement finds resonance in Hershey Kay, Maybe my imagination but why not. Matthias Dingman was the gallant Captain (later Admiral) Belaye. Easy to see why the girls' hearts were aflutter. Laura Day (who had earlier delighted the audience as a playmate in Solitaire) danced his sweetheart Blanche. Laura Purkiss was her interfering aunt, Mrs Dimple, who doubles as Britania at the end. Nao Sakuma danced Blanche's rival, Pineapple Poll. Kit Holder was the hero of the piece rising from pot boy to naval officer and Poll's husband without even having time to remove his apron."
It was almost the same cast and an equally glorious ending to another great evening of ballet last night. I think the only important substitution was Daria Stanciulescu for Lau Purkis as Mrs Dimple. I believe there may have been some extra bits of choreography and a bit more scenery in Birmingham but maybe I just didn't take it all in last time.

After being reassured by Birmingham resident, Sarah Lambert, in a comment to my review of Coppelia that flowers are presented and even cut flowers thrown at the Hippodrome I had expected the stage to be ankle if not knee deep. It was a premiere of an important new work after all.  Yet another flower free reverence. My only disappoinment of the evening.  So here are digital blooms. First a van load of the choicest roses for Ruth Brill for Arcadia. She did get tumultuous applause when she stepped on stage for her curtain call and I was able to catch her in the bar to tell her in person how much I loved her show but I wish I could have given her flowers. Enormous bouquets also to Brill's leading ladies, Gittens, Ray, Zhang and Matthews, to Roberts and Hirata for their performances in Fée and a whole greenhouse full for the delightful Nao Sakuma for being such a spirited, comical and quite enchanting Poll.

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