Three Short Ballets from the Birmingham Royal Ballet

Last night saw the opening of the second show of the Birmingham Royal Ballet summer season for 2017. This time audiences were in for a treat, as a triple header of three short ballets charmed, thrilled, amused and shocked in equal measure. The ballets performed were Arcadia, a new ballet from BRB alumni Ruth Brill, the classic haunting Le Baiser de la Fee’ and the Gilbert and Sullivan inspired ‘Pineapple Poll’. Each ballet was wonderful in its own way – three very different ballets in very different styles.

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Arcadia

Arcadia is the story of Pan, the god of Arcadia, and has a wonderfully earthy central performance from Brandon Lawrence. Visually striking, scenes like the nymphs dancing and ignoring Pan, where the dancers Brooke Ray, Yijing Zhang and Delia Matthews are silhouetted against a stunning Arcadian backdrop, are vivid and linger in the memory.  The stunning costumes in colours that echo the forest of Arcadia are also pivotal to the ballet.  The ballet is further enhanced by the soaring saxophone solo by John Harle which creates a score that is almost Gershwin in tone. Ruth Brill has really done a great job with creating a stunning tableau that has passion and emotion.

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Le Baiser De La Fee

Where Arcadia is a ballet filled with hope, the classic Le Baiser De La Fee is a haunting experience. A woman is lost in a  snow storm, trying to protect her baby, when she is ambushed by a fairy and her attendants. The woman tries to protect her baby, but the sprites take the child from her and the woman dies in the snow. The fairy kisses the child on his forehead but is then disturbed by villagers who find the child and his dead mother. Many years pass, and the child grows into a young man, in love with his soon to be bride. However, happiness is not to be there’s as the fairy returns to claim the young man. She tricks him into believing she is the bride by wearing the veil and he is horrified to find that he has been tricked, but is powerless to resist her charm and beauty.

This is a beautiful haunting ballet which truly transfers you to a world of snow and ice. There are lighter, exquisite moments, like when the lovely bride (Momoko Hirata who dances so prettily, an utterly charming performance) dances with her attendants in her wedding veil. This is a scene that is enchanting and lovely, such a contrast to the passionate, almost tortured scenes with the young man (Joseph Caley) and the Fairy (Jenna Roberts). Joseph Caley once again shows himself as a dancer who can express so many emotions from happiness to fear, passion and delight, a real leading man. Jenna Roberts is exquisite as the rather dangerous fairy, a glittering and glamorous presence.

This is a ballet that is filled with powerful moments, and the denouement, when the fairy has finally ensnared the young man, and his heartbroken fiancée is disconsolately searching for him, is as disconcerting a moment as you will find in a modern ballet.

Just beautiful in every way.

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Pineapple Poll

Pineapple Poll is a delight, a superbly funny piece of ballet in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan.  The Birmingham Hippodrome stage was transformed into Portsmouth in the Victorian Era as the handsome Captain Belaye charms every woman he meets, including Poll, who sells her trinkets by the quayside. Captain Belaye has the same effect on other woman too, as Poll discovers when she stows away on his boat disguised as a sailor. All the other wives and girlfriends of the sailors have had the same idea and have also stowed away, leaving the Captain with a ship crewed entirely by women. Much hilarity ensures as the woman try to keep up their disguise whilst swooning over the dashing captain.

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Poll was danced wonderfully by Nao Sakuma, who showed a wonderful sense of comic timing, especially in the scene on board ship where she faints twice, first from the sound of the cannon, and then in a swoon for Captain Belaye. The captain is also wonderfully danced by Mathias Dingman, who plays the role with his tongue firmly in cheek, but dances a dream, particularly in the hornpipe inspired dance. Balaye’s fiancee Blanche (Laura Day) is also hilarious, playing the pretty, pampered princess like a wind up doll to brilliant effect, whilst Kit Holder as Jasper, the pot man in love with Poll, gives the ballet emotion in the scene where he believes Poll is drowned.

Pineapple Poll is such a lovely, funny experience, it leaves you with a wonderfully warm glow.

Le Baiser de la fée, Pineapple Poll & Arcadia.

Thu 22 – Sat 24 June

Click here for ticket information

 

Coppelia – Shimmering, Sparkling and Super Fun

The Birmingham Royal Ballet summer season began in Birmingham on Tuesday evening with the opening at the Hippodrome of  the ever charming Coppelia. Once again, the BRB showed why they are one of the world’s greatest ballet company’s with a production that showed that ballet can be funny as well as graceful.

The story of Coppelia is one full of humour and deception, featuring the aged old love triangle between a boy,a girl and a wooden doll. Of course, the village Lothario Franz doesn’t realise that the new object of his lust, the beautiful lady who sits on the balcony of Dr Coppelius,  quietly reading her book, is a wooden doll. Nor does the lovely Swanilda realise that the rather aloof Coppelia, who she tries to chat too from the town square, isn’t real. Hence, when she finds the key to Dr Coppelius’s house and workshop, she wants to take a closer look at the girl for herself. Franz is also curious about the lovely (albeit slightly wooden) young lady, and uses a ladder to enter the workshop. All chaos ensues when Dr Coppelius arrives back and discovers Franz in his home. Could the soul of the young man help transform his beautiful Coppelia into a real girl?

There was much to enjoy in this performance of Coppelia. Nao Sakuma is a charming heroine, her masquerade as the living doll is just sublime, and she turns out to be the heroine of the piece, rescuing the frankly undeserving Franz from Dr Coppelius and his book of spells. The set piece when Swanilda and her friends creep into the rather spooky workshop is very funny, the ballet moves perfectly mimicking the creeping actions of the girls, and I love the ballerina at the end of the line, so frightened she is almost bent double lest she see anything that scares her. Franz, as played by Joseph Caley, is lusty and red-blooded, the perfect hero of the piece, although you almost wish that Swanilda could kick him into touch – he doesn’t exactly treat his betrothed well, despite the ringing from the ear of corn.

The sets are beautiful, evoking Eastern European architecture in the village scene and the Duke’s mansion, whilst the costumes really add to the spectacle, particularly in the vibrant reds and greens of the opening scenes. I loved the slightly garish, sensuous costume worn by the Gypsy girl (Victoria Marr) who seems intent and also leading Franz away from his beloved, all ribbons and sashes everywhere. And, of course, the music soars across the theatre, those instantly recognisable compositions by Leo Delibes that prove the perfect backdrop to all the dances.

Coppelia is a dream – a gorgeous, frothy and enchanting production that is just the perfect entertainment for a Summer’s evening. Love prevails and everyone is happy at the end of the day – what more could you wish for?

Coppelia is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 17th June. Click here for details.

Behind the Scenes at Billy Elliot

Last Friday I was invited to go behind the scenes at the Birmingham Hippodrome to have a look at what goes on backstage at the musical Billy Elliot. Actor Scott Garnham, who plays Tony in the stage production, took us on a tour of the set and backstage areas so we could really get a feel of the hustle and bustle that goes into making a hit musical. The props, the wigs, the sets and the ballet tutus and riot shields were all there, making it a very exciting experience.

Control centre backstage

Billy Elliot is a big musical in more ways than one. It has a large cast, and large production set pieces, which call for a large space, both in terms of stage and backstage. The Hippodrome is truly enormous backstage, making it probably the only theatre in Birmingham that could accomodate such a big production. Scott explained that the touring production has had to use big theatres in towns and cities across the UK, and, in most cases, the theatres used were the only ones that were big enough in each place. The large cast calls for lots of dressing rooms, and enough space backstage for mass costume changes, special areas had been created to house items like the tutu’s used in the last musical number, and for the rows of riot shields, an enormous canister of dry ice dominates one corner of backstage. Billy Elliot is a musical on a grand scale, and the space needs to reflect that.

It is surreal to look around the backstage area. The fact that when you look in the air you are faced with an  enormous Maggie Thatcher looking back at you makes this no ordinary experience. There are two separate dressing areas – one for adults and one for the children, as well as an area full of wigs. Miners helmets and tutus are everywhere, highlighting the two themes of the musical, and there are boxes and boxes of props, including a box full of rather evil looking Thatcher puppets. Another surreal aspects are the fantastic giant costumes that are lowered onto the wearer at the very last minute, and hang suspended backstage, almost dancing in the breeze.

The backstage tour highlighted some of the magical tricks of live theatre. The sets work on hydrolics, Scott explained that even when it looks like members of the cast might be pushing the sets, they aren’t. There is a booth backstage for adding extra vocals and voices to production numbers where those voices are heard, but not seen. Microphones are added to trousers to make the sound of dance steps, particular tap steps, loud and clear from the stage. The iron bars used by the miners, covered in newspaper, which look so sinister on the stage, are actually fairly soft rubber when you remove the paper. Billy Elliot is a magical experience, and it was interesting to see just how some of that magic is created.

I will be posting later in the week the second part of my Billy Elliot experience, a chat with Jeroen Luiten the Resident Choreographer.

Wed 29 Mar – Sat 29 Apr

Click here for ticket and show information.