Thursday, 28 May 2015

Vaut le Voyage - Birmingham Royal Ballet in Shrewsbury

Theatre Severn Shrewsbury
Photo Jane Lambert
All rights reserved

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Les Rendezvous, Kin and Elite Syncopations, Theatre Severn, Shrewsbury 27 May 2015

Last Wednesday I went to York to see Birmingham Royal Ballet's triple bill (see Birmingham Royal Ballet in York 21 May 2015). I had expected to see Ashton's Les Rendezvous, MacMillan's Elite Syncopations and Kin a new ballet by Alexander Whitley. I saw Les Rendezvous and Elite Syncopations but, sadly, not Kin because Delia Mathews who was due to dance the leading female role in that ballet had sustained an injury in Les Rendezvous and it was not possible to stage the work without her. As it was Kin that I had most wanted to see I resolved to see the work in another theatre at another time.

I caught up with the company last night at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury which is one of the most beautiful theatres I have ever seen.  Only the Festival Theatre at Pitlochry beats it in my humble opinion and that is only because I prefer hills to towns.  It is right up there with the Open Air Theatre in Regent's Park, the Lowry, the Liverpool Playhouse, the Stephen Joseph in Scarborough and Covent Garden in my pantheon of favourite venues. As you can see from the photo it is built on the banks of the River Severn. It is a very new building with every modern facility for the performers and audience.  I explored it before and after the show and found a main auditorium on three levels, a second, smaller auditorium, a restaurant area and several bars.  It is next door to a massive car park the use of which the council (like metropolitan Westminster and Camden but unlike provincial York and Leeds) does not charge after 18:00.  The glass panels which you can see in the picture command awesome views of the town.  As I booked late I had to choose between side or back seats in the stalls and circle or front and centre seats in the upper circle. I chose the latter as I have good eyesight and I found it afforded a magnificent view of the stage but (unlike the amphitheatre in the House) it was still close enough to make out the dancers' features and the expressions on their faces.

Kin was well worth the 200 mile return journey which took three hours each way. It began with a low, almost inaudible, hum like an electric motor which I think must have been a cello as the curtain began slowly to rise. The stage was dimly lit and I could just about make out a solitary female dancer dressed in black. As she began to move I think I recognized Yijing Zhang. She then danced the most beautiful solo. Had it been poetry of words rather than dance I would have described as elegiac. The other dancers entered also in black. The music changed to a persistent throbbing. I wrote a lot of notes on my cast list not all of which I can decipher now as I had to scribble in the dark. I can just about make out "gyrations" and "chaînés".  I remember the most hauntingly beautiful pas de deux by Yijing Zhang and William Bracewell. I also remember some great turns by the males towards the end. This morning, I can also make out the noun "virtuosity."

I apologize for the superficiality of this description but yesterday was the first time I had seen a very beautiful, multi-layered work which I think will require more than one viewing to appreciate properly. Marion Tait referred to the work's beauty when she had to announce its cancellation last week. I seem to remember that she also used the adjective "special". If she did she was right. The music was by Phil Kline and I think this was the first time I had heard his work. It is not a pretty score but it sets the mood perfectly and it allowed plenty of scope for interpretation. The set (very plain with just two features) and the austere black costumes were by Jean-Marc Puissant. The lighting which cleverly matched the atmospheric score was by Peter Teigen. Whitley assembled those elements ingeniously.

As I had arrived at York last week flustered because my satnav had led my companion on a circuitous tour of the city's traffic jams before I decided to ditch it and follow my memory, bothered because I had no small change for the meter and I couldn't find my phone and uncomfortable because I had to run in heels from Clifford's Tower to the Grand Opera House and then had to run a gauntlet of glares as I scurried to my seat as the house lights dimmed I didn't take Les Rendezvous in properly. My recollection of the performance was of course marred by Mathews's slip though I barely noticed it at the time because she was back on her feet instantly. This time I savoured the ballet like a fine Mondavi wine. I followed its patterns and its intricacies. I see that I wrote the words "Rubik's cube" on my cast list. I marvelled at the choreography though my heart missed a beat as the orchestra played the bit where Mathews fell. It is not an easy piece to perform as it was created for Markova and Idzikowsky and it is associated in my mind with Fonteyn and Helpmann. Yesterday the woman in yellow was danced by Yijing Zhang and the woman in mauve (I am referring to the colour of the spots on their dresses) by Elisha Willis. Both were lovely. Brandon Lawrence was also there and he stood out again as he did last week. The role that Lawrence danced in York, however, was danced by Bracewell and he was also magnificent.

I also relished seeing Elite Syncopations again. It may be because I was in the gallery but the stage in Shrewsbury seemed bigger than the one in York. Certainly the dancers seemed to more more fluently and the orchestra looked more comfortable. The show was as delightful as ever with all my favourite bits. Arancha Baselga, Samara Downs and Yijing Zhang danced The Cascades, Downs her sexy, sultry Calliope Rag, Baselga and Fergus Campbell The Golden Hours and Yvette Knight a delightful Stoptime Rag, Yijing Zhang and Tzu-Chao Chou were hilarious in The Alaskan Rag. Lawrence and Knight were magnificent in the Bethena Concert Waltz. Once again Chi Cao thrilled us with his jumps. It was over far too soon. The crowd loved it. We clapped and cheered until our hands were sore and our throats were sore.

As I had a long journey back to Yorkshire I lingered for a while. There was an exhibition of drawings and water colours of landscapes of South Shropshire. I picked up a leaflet which I now find is a flyer for a firm of solicitors offering such services as business crime, debt recovery and family matters so I can tell you nothing about the artist. I know and love that part of the county for I spent the first few months of my life at Much Wenlock in a cottage miles from anywhere without gas, electricity and running water. I might have been a Salopian like Houseman - except that he was  born in Worcestershire despite the title of his best known work. I owe the happy accident of being born in the greatest city in the nation. Bintley as a Northerner should know that the second city is London and not Birmingham as he claims in the programme. My mother insisted on returning to Manchester because there was no way she was giving birth in that cottage.

I may have made my first and so far only appearance in the movies in Much Wenlock. The town was the location for the shooting of Gone to Earth with Jennifer Jones in the leading role. Everyone in the town was recruited as extras. I once saw the film on telly and there is a shot of a baby in a pram. Of course, I have no personal recollection but my mother told me that she received a visit from her brother who had motored down from Bramhope for the day. My uncle was bemused by the town in Victorian dress. His first words to my mother were:
"Eeeh lass! Why have you come to live here? I had heard they were a bit backward in these parts but I didn't think they were that far behind the times."
If any of my readers has not yet seen Shropshire with the Wrekin and Long Mynd he or she should do so because it is one of the loveliest counties in the whole United Kingdom. "England! thy beauties are tame and domestic" did you say? The poet would not have said that had he visited Shropshire.

All of which is a digression. Birmingham Royal Ballet were as good as ever. I look forward to catching the southern tour in High Wycombe on Saturday and The King Dances in Birmingham on 20 June 2015.

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