Sunday, 19 May 2019

Two Gems: "Seasons in Our World" and "Peter and the Wolf"

Theatre Severn from the Welsh Bridge, Shrewsbury
© 2016 Jane Lambert: all rights reserved

Birmingham Royal Ballet Seasons in the World/Peter and the Wolf Saturday, 18 May 2019m 19:30, Theatre Severn 

Great dance is not always to be found in great theatres in major cities. Some of the best shows that I have seen have been in places like Heerlen and Oban. Yesterday I saw another at Theatre Severn in Shrewsbury. It was a double bill consisting of Seasons in Our World by Laura Day, Kit Holder and Lachlan Monaghan and Peter and the Wolf by Ruth Brill.

On the train back to Manchester I tweeted
This was not hyperbole or flattery. It came from the heart after a lifetime of ballet going.  Nobody should be surprised by this because touring with innovative works is what the Birmingham Royal Ballet has always done and has always done well.  Indeed, as the company's director reminded us in his programme, Dancing in the Blitzits wartime tours of airfields, camps, factories and naval bases during the second world war did much to sustain military and civilian morale as well as introduce a whole new public to ballet.

The two works were different but complementary.  Seasons in Our World was created by three different choreographers to a new score by Cevanne Horrocks-Hopayian.  Brill reinterpreted a score and monologue that many if not most members of the audience will have known backwards. Both works shared the same designer and lighting designer, Spike Kilburn and Peter Teigen. I had already seen work by Brill (Matryoshka and Arcadia) and Holder (Hopper and To Fetch a Pail of Water) which I admired greatly but Day and Monaghan were new to me as choreographers. Having seen Day's  Spring and Monaghan's Summer and Autumn I hope to see much more work from each of them in future.

Seasons in our World consisted of five movements starting and ending with Spring.  The dancers performed around a single grill-like stage item that was transformed by Teigen's lighting from growth and abundance in Spring to barrenness in Winter reinforced with the sound of pelting rain. According to the programme notes, the ballet was inspired by a poem entitled Seasons by David Laing.  David Bintley used it as "the basis for a new ballet created by young choreographers, designers and composer that would be suited to being taken outside the regular major venue circuit." According to Day and Brill who spoke about their works just before the show, it has been performed in Laing's county town of Northampton, Day's home town of Cheltenham and now Shrewsbury and will be taken to Malvern and Wolverhampton.

My favourite bit of the work was Day's Spring and particularly the jaunty, cheery dance by Miki Mitzutani, James Barton and Gus Payne in green that opened and closed the piece.  The music helped.  An easy to remember tune - so easy, in fact, that I can't get it out of my head.  Summer was brown and languid with Samara Downs and Yasuo Atsuji.  In his programme notes, David Mead explains how Monaghan wanted to get away from the mildness of the British temperate summer and explore the harshness of the Australian season with drought and bush fires, especially as the world's climate zones are showing signs of changing. Holder's Winter was also harsh but also magical with snow. And before we know it we were back to Spring.

I can see why Bintley commissioned the work for the smaller Midland's venues. It was experimental work with new choreographers and composer that could easily have gone wrong.  But it didn't. I hope he and his successor, Carlos Acosta, keep Seasons in our World in the repertoire and show it in places like Sadler's Wells and the Hippodrome. I think Londoners and Brummies would like it.

Peter and the World is just so well known and well loved it could not possibly fail to appeal.  I first heard the score and dialogue on Children's Favourites with Uncle Mac on the Light Programme in the early 1950s and I have seen countless performances in various genres on different mediums at different levels of performance ever since.  So, no doubt, would a lot of other people in the audience,

Yet Brill created something new.  First, she set it in the urban wilderness and not a rural one. The set was scaffolding.  A tree only in a child's imagination.  There was a pond for a duck that was probably a burst water main or a crater.   And the wolf was very much of the two-footed kind as in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's Little Red Riding Hood.   Secondly, she cast Day as Peter, Tori Forsyth-Hecken, Alys Shee and Eilis Small as the hunters and Tzu-Chao Chou as the little bird.  I have to be careful here for I once got into trouble with several of the company's dancers by discerning a dimension that upset them but I detected a feminist twist here.  If Peter is a boy and the hunters are men, as they usually are, it is the female duck that is eaten by the male wolf (Mathias Dingman) it is the makes who remove the pest and lead him into captivity.  Whether intended or not there was a strong feminist twist   Brill made it clear that women can take care of threats without the need for heroes thanks very much. 

Day may have been cast as a boy but she danced like a girl and one with spirit - particularly when her granddad (Barton) scooped her from the meadow (building site) and lectured her about keeping safe. Like a girl, she showed ingenuity in catching the wolf and I think also like a girl she interceded with the hunters to save its life. Downs made a great cat. I loved the way she probed the air with her paw just like a real moggy.  And there was a lovely performance of the duck by Shee taking the place of Brooke Ray.  I enjoyed her riposte to the bird's taunt: "What sort of bird are you if you can't fly?"

Peter and the Wolf will be danced in Birmingham and London as well as other places and I think audiences will love it.  There is a lovely trailer on Vimeo to whet my readers' appetite,