The Nutcracker – Christmas Comes To Birmingham

The Birmingham Hippodrome was once again transformed into the epitome of Christmas as the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s classic production of The Nutcracker opened last night. The ballet is always seen as the opening of Christmas in Birmingham, and, once again, it’s charm, beauty and magic thrilled the sell out audience. The Nutcracker can be described in a single word- enchanting.

It is Christmas Eve and the Stahlbaum family are giving a party for family and friends. A magician Drosselmeyer is invited and gives the Stahlbaum’s oldest daughter Clara the gift of a Nutcracker. When the guests have departed, Clara creeps down to retrieve her Nutcracker (worried that her jealous younger brother will steal it maybe?), but as the clock strikes midnight the room seems to grow in size and become a strange, eerie place. Giant rats appear and attack Clara. She is rescued by her Nutcracker, who has magically come to life. This intervention leads to a night of magic as The Nutcracker is transformed into a handsome prince and he leads Clara into a land of snow and ice where she meets a whole host of dancers from different lands.

The company of The Nutcracker is simply wonderful. Karla Doorbar is a charming, lovely Clara, whilst Momoko Hirata is beautiful as the Sugar Plum Fairy. Cesar Morales is perfect as the Prince, a virile yet romantic lead who has a wonderful chemistry with Hirata. Other stand outs including the crowd pleasing Russian dancers (Max Maslen, Lachlan Monaghan and Gus Payne\) who’s energetic Cossack style dance is always a real favourite, particularly as it is performed to the part of Iiyich Tchaikovsky’s score that is instantly recognisable from fans of Home Alone.

The Nutcracker is an annual classic that never loses its charm and beauty and remains an unmissable part of the Birmingham Theatre calendar.

Simply Wonderful.

The Nutcracker

Birmingham Hippodrome

Saturday 25th – Wednesday 13th December

Click here for ticket information

 

Aladdin Weaves A Magic Spell at the Birmingham Hippodrome

I think that even adults need the magic of fairy tales in their lives, and last night I was transported to the land of beautiful Princesses, handsome heroes and magic lamps when I attended the press preview of Aladdin by the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome.

This production by David Bintley is an exquisite triumph, perfect entertainment for the whole family, with scenes that amuse, romantic sequences that charm, and an wholly engaging cast that keep you entertained throughout.

The story is kept thankfully familiar, Mathias Dingman is wonderful as Aladdin, playing the role as a likeable cheeky chappy who gets himself into troubles that almost cost him his head. He rescued by sinister Maghrib who sets him the task to find a magic lamp. This leads to a scene of sheer enchantment as Aladdin progresses through a truly beautiful cave, where the myriad of rubies, emeralds and sapphires are bought to life by a series of energetic dances, before Aladdin finally reaches the centre of the cave, and thus the lamp. The scenery in this particular section is stunning, I loved the stalagmites in a multitude of colours that echo the variety of gems in the cave.

The cave scene is a real favourite, bit there were many other sections to enjoy, not least of which was the wedding dance of the Chinese Dragon, resplendent in white and gold, and actually Aladdin’s friends (Kit Holder and Lachlan Monagham). And I loved the romance of the bathhouse scene, where Aladdin and the beautiful princess ( the always sublime Momoko Hirata) first meet properly and fall in love, their dancing is joyful and tender and is just lovely. In terms of the characterisations, The Maghrib (Iain Mackay)  is a suitably dark and devilish bad guy with plenty of swigger and presence, whilst the blue genie (Tzu-Chao Chou) is both magical and genial, and delights every time he appears. Aladdin’s mother, the legendary Marion Tait, brings forth the comic element, especially in the scene in the Chinese Laundry.

 

A mention must be made of the set, which is almost an extra character in this ballet. You really are transferred to a mysterious cave, a luxurious bathhouse, a magnificent palace and a house that doubles as a Chinese laundry, and set changes are quick and seamless.

This is just a perfect night out for the whole family, delighting the audience by old and young. A total feast for the eyes and for the ears, with the Carl Davis score illuminating each scene majestically, Aladdin shows that ballet can be funny, entertaining and touching in equal parts.

Aladdin

Birmingham Hippodrome

Wed 4 – Sat 7th October

Click here for ticket information.

 

 

 

 

 

Reviewed: Penguin Cafe Mixed Programme

The Autumn season of the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the Birmingham Hippodrome began last night with the Penguin Cafe mixed programme, an eclectic collection of three short ballets headlined by the sublime ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe. The triple hander showed the diversity of ballet, from the Ragtime dancing of Elite Syncopations, to the Morris dancing of ‘Penguin Cafe’, right through to the paired back, beautiful simplicity of Concerto.

Concerto

A bare stage, plain rehearsal style costumes and the stirring music of Shostakovich, Concerto is a ballet that definitely has two moods. The first and third act are upbeat and lively, but it is the second act dance that stays in the memory, a lucid, sensuous pas de deux that, on this occasion, was performed to perfection by Jenna Roberts and Tyrone Singleton.

‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Cafe

There is one word that perfectly sums up ‘Penguin Cafe’ and that is enchanting. But although the story raises smile after smile through the characterisation of the endangered species, it also has a series message about the conservation of these disappearing animals. The wonderful opening scene features the penguin of the title, in actual fact the know extinct The Great Auk, danced by the wonderful Ruth Brill in ‘Air A Danser’, this is an elegant dance that brings to mind 1930s tea dances, particularly with the bias cut evening gowns of the female dancers.

We then see the humour of the wonderfully loveable Texas Kangeroo Rat (Tzu-Chao Chou), struggling to get comfortable as he tries to sleep and delighting the audience with his incessant scratching. It is a fine performance by Tzu-Chao Chou, filled with warmth and funny moments. The scratching leads neatly to fantastically named Humboldt’s Hig-Nosed Skunk Flea, danced with light hearted finesse by Laura Day, and given exquisite, and hilarious support by five morris dancers, showing how ‘Penguin Cafe’ makes the surreal something really special.

But as light hearted as the early scenes are, there are darker moments to this ballet. Tyrone Singleton again sizzles as the Southern Cape Zebra, proud and strutting but hunted down, all the while surrounded by women in zebra striped dresses who seem to ignore what is happening.

Penguin Cafe is wonderful in that the music remains upbeat right until the end, which is oblique and open to interpretation. Is the storm that comes made up of acid rain? Is the final scene of animals on the ark an premonition of our future?

Elite Syncopations

Elite Syncopations is a delight, a ballet that also brings the Royal Ballet Sinfonia onto the stage and into costume. Using the music of Ragtime, notably that of Scott Joplin, Elite Syncopations is a one act composition, using a dance competition as the premise for showcasing a range of wonderful dance routines that both inspire and amuse.

The dance competition allows us to enjoy a range of soloists, dancing whilst the rest of the troop sit on stage and watch, almost like they are sizing up the competition. I loved the Stoptime Rag, with Jenna Roberts dancing the role almost like a drum majorette, complete with a costume that brings to mind the stars and stripes. The Alaskan Rag is hilarious, with the mismatched coupling of Yvette Knight and Tzu-Chao Chau bringing laughter to the theatre and showing just how funny ballet can be.

This is a bright and vibrant ballet, full of joyful moments, and yet at times it also brings to mind the dance floor desperation of ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They’, also centred around a dance competition, also taking place around the time Joplin’s ragtime music was in vogue.

The Penguin Cafe Mixed Programme is a brilliant way to enjoy a diverse and colourful range of ballets.

A triple bill with joyous dancing, ragtime music and animals sheltering from a storm!

Thu 28 – Sat 30 Sep, Click here for ticket information.