Monday, 1 July 2019


Standard YouTube Licence

Birmingham Royal Baller [Un]leashed (Lyric Pieces, Sense of Time and Peter and the Wolf) Sadler's Wells, 25 June 2019, 19:30

I enjoyed Peter and the Wolf so much when I saw it in Shrewsbury on 18 May 2019 that I booked to see it again in London on 25 June 2019. Sadly, that performance clashed with the transmission of Nothern Ballet's Victoria which I believe to have been the first time that Northern Ballet had streamed its output to cinemas.  Although I always prefer stage to screen, the big advantage of HDTV is that offers close-ups of the artists, their costumes and the sets. Having seen the show in Leeds and Leicester several curiosities on my part could have been satisfied.

Returning to Peter and the Wolf, it appeared at the end of a triple bill with Jessica Lang's Lyric Pieces and Didy Veldman's Sense of Time.   The title of the show was [Un]leashed and I wondered why.   I considered whether it was something to do with the wolf.  It would explain the letters in square brackets for the animal had been leashed in the sense that it was lassoed by Peter and led off to the zoo. The nearest I got to an explanation in the programme notes was in the welcome from David Bintley. He wrote that "[Un]leashed epitomises Birmingham Royal Ballet's enthusiasm for and commitment to new work."  I have to say that it had never previously occurred to me that the Birmingham Royal Ballet's artists had been constrained in any way.  With Brill, Holder and Day to name just three, the BRB has always struck me as a prodigiously creative company.

Lyric Pieces is the second of Lang's pieces that I have seen.   In 2016 she contributed Wink based on Shakespeare's 43rd sonnet to commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death (see Birmingham Royal Ballet brings Shakespeare to York 18 May 2016).  The piece consists of 10 dances set to selected short solo piano compositions by Edward Grieg.  With titles like Elves Dance, Peasants Song, Norwegian Melody and March of the Trolls they are clearly connected with Norwegian folklore. The dancers' space is defined or in some cases marked by expandable or contractable black kraft paper. They constructed fan-like props for themselves.  I enjoyed all of the pieces, particularly Phantom, a duet by Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence, and March of the Trolls by Maureya Lebowitz, Yvette Knight, Yijing Zhang, James Barton and Max Maslen.

Didy Veldman's Sense of Time explores our relationship with time.  Possibly because busses, trains and aeroplanes run to timetables the central feature of this piece is a pile of suitcases some of which fall away. Others are removed to reveal cosy boltholes through which artists climb.  The piece is not just about the dominance of time.  It is also about time as a resource and how we sometimes squander it.  In one scene the dancers appear to squint at mobile phones.  The score was composed by Gabriel Prokofiev who also created the music for Shobana Jeyasingh's La Bayadere - The Ninth LifeThere is a sort of connection with Peter and the Wolf as Gabriel Prokofiev is Sergei Prokofiev's grandson. The music combines the sort of melodies the grandfather could have written with strident electronic sounds.  Gittens, Lawrence, Zhang and Knight were in Sense of Time together with Tyrone Singleton, Delia Matthews, Gabriel Anderson, Edivaldo Souza da Silva, Yaogiang Shang, Lachlan Monaghan, Beatrice Parma and Aitor Galende.

Even though I liked Lyric Pieces and Sense of Time very much, the highlight for me was Peter and the Wolf. The cast was the same as it had been in Shrewsbury except that Brooke Ray was able to dance the duck. Laura Day danced Peter as charmingly as she did in Theatre Severn, Matthias Dingman the wold, Tzu-Chao Chou the bird, Samara Downs the cat, James Barton the grandfather and Tori Forsyth-Hacken, Alys Shee and Eilis Small the hunters.  As I forecast in my review of their performance in Shrewsbury, the audience at Sadler's Wells loved Peter and the Wolf.  I don't think that they danced any better in London than they did in Shrewsbury but a London audience somehow lifts a show. I think that is because a show is a sort of conversation.  An audience that sees a lot of dance appreciates a good show and responds accordingly.  That, in turn, is picked up by the cast who shine even more. It was a great atmosphere and it was lovely to see the choreographer acknowledging our applause at the reverence.

Peter and the Wolf have more performances in Plymouth in October and children will be introduced to that ballet with a special hour-long, interactive show, called First Steps: Peter and the Wolf.  I hope that they will bring it to the Lowry or some other Northern theatre one day.  Sadly, we have to wait until March to see them again but as they will bring us their Swan Lake it will be worth the wait.  Two shows that I shall try to catch in Birmingham will be Giselle and The Nutcracker.   I also recommend The Nutcracker in the Albert Hall.

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