Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Birmingham Royal Ballet brings Shakespeare to York

York Theatre Royal
Source Wikipedia
Creative Commons Licence

Birmingham Royal Ballet, Shakespeare Triple Bill, York Theatre Royal, 14 May 2016, 19{30

Birmingham Royal Ballet has a lot of links with Yorkshire. Brandon Lawrence, one of my favourite dancers, comes from Bradford and David Bintley, the company's artistic director, comes from the next village to mine (see My Home and Bintley's 12 May 2015. "We like coming to York" said Jade Heusen in the talk before the show and I think I speak for most theatre goers in this county when I say that we like having you here but we wish we could see a lot more of you. Not just the Northern tour and not just in York but in Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Hull and any other theatres in the county that are geared up for dance.

I asked David Bintley about that once and he seemed receptive to the idea. He said that he had first seen ballet at the Alhambra and that it would also be good to see Northern Ballet in Birmingham. One of the reasons why that does not happen now is the perceived need to build up local loyalty for regional ballet companies, but I don't think it works like that. Three of Northern's biggest fans of my acquaintance live miles from Leeds. Two in Buckinghamshire and one in Merseyside. I for my part feel a particular attachment to Scottish Ballet which was the first dance company that I got to know. I do not see it anything like as often as I wish because it is in Glasgow which is further away than Birmingham. I am also a Friend of Ballet Cymru, Ballet Black, the Dutch National Ballet and Covent Garden. I donate regularly to Northern Ballet, attend all its shows and take at least one adult ballet class there every week but I am just as much a fan of English National Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet.

Anyway, this beautiful company (or at least part of it) was in York last Saturday night and it brought a programme of ballets based on the plays and sonnets of Warwickshire's most famous son, William Shakespeare. The programme began with Wink choreographed by Jessica Lang to a score by Jakub Ciupinski. It was followed by three pas de deux from Ashton's Dream, MacMillan's Romeo and Juliet and Cranko's The Taming of the Shrew and concluded with José Limón's The Moor's Pavane.  I was attracted to the show by the prospect of seeing the three pas de deux which are among the best bits of three of my favourite ballets. I was not disappointed. They were danced exquisitely and were the highlight of my evening; but I liked Wink too and The Moor's Pavane somewhat more.

As I remarked in my review of the company's  performance in Birmingham in Ashton's Double Bill 21 Feb 2016, I cannot even hear Mendelssohn's music let alone watch The Dream without thinking of Dame Antoinette Sibley who is my all time favourite ballerina or indeed Sir Anthony Dowell who partnered her in this as in all ballets so beautifully. It makes me root for tissues. Titania was danced by Karla Doorbar who looks a little bit like Sibley and Obseron by the magnificent Chi Cao. I think I enjoyed watching them even more than I did Sakuma and Caley in Birmingham.

Ideally an interview or at least a pause should have finished that performance but it was followed immediately by another treat. Tyrone Singleton and Celine Gittens danced the second pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet.  I had seen Singelton as Romeo once before when he took over the role from Jamie Bond at very short notice but this time he was dancing with Gittens and when those two are together the result is magic. I saw them in Coppelia at The Lowry last year and they were sensational. They were sensational again last Saturday night.

The last pas de deux was from one of my favourite ballets (even though I have only seen it once) by my all time favourite choreographer, John Cranko, and its was danced delightfully by Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay. It was from the part of the ballet that starts with a battle of wills but ends with the first signs of attraction and softening by Katherina. It is an amusing but also very beautiful piece and the change in mood is caught by the choreography. This work was created for the Stuttgart Ballet and it is performed not nearly as frequently as it should be in this country.  I look forward to Birmingham's production at the Hippodrome next month very much.

According to David Mead's programme note Wink comes from the first line of Shakespeare's sonnet 43 "When most I wink, then do my eyes best see." As it was also derived from the sonnets I could not help comparing Lang's work to Kate Flatt's Undivided Loves for Phoenix Dance Theatre which I reviewed in Phoenix's 35th Anniversary Tour 18 Feb 2016 and I have to say that I think I liked Flatt's work more. The score was stronger and the choreography more interesting. The black and white slabs that are intended to represent pages according to the programme note were distracting. I found it hard to get into the work and maybe need to see it again when I have not driven from Holmfirth to Bradford, Bradford to Manchester and Manchester to York all in the same day. What could not be faulted was the dancing and so many of my favourites were in that work including Singleton, Gittens, Cesar MoralesYijing Zhang and Ruth Brill.

Created in the year of my birth The Moor's Pavane is a classic of American dance that I have long wanted to see. It tells the tragedy of Othello to the music of Purcell in 20 short minutes. Morales was the Moor, Yvette Knight was Desdemona, Chi Cao was Iago and Yijing Zhang was Emilia.  A powerful, very beautiful but also quite disturbing work. It is performed without props. The story is told entirely by the music and perhaps also by the lighting.

I should say a word about the theatre. Built in the ruins of St Leonard's Hospital it is one of the most beautiful and intimate theatre that I know.  it was established in 1744 and has staged many great productions. In her talk Jensen mentioned that it was adapted well for dancing. I can well understand why the company likes performing there. Situated not far from the Minster and almost opposite the art gallery and some lovely public gardens with a pleasant cafe and bistro the theatre is a tourist attraction in its own right,

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