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.

Birmingham Hippodrome New season review Part 2.

Following on from Part 1 of the Birmingham Hippodrome New Season review, which appeared on the blog last week, today I bring you the second part of the Q&A sessions, this time featuring David Bintley, the creative director of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, and Kash Bennett from the National Theatre, who was talking about the phenomenal success of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the night-time.

David Bintley – Birmingham Royal Ballet

David Bintley’s Cinderella is part of the new season at the Birmingham Hippodrome, coming to the theatre in February.  David explained:

“I felt there was a gap for a real Cinderella. The Ugly sisters needed to be women, not men, and needed real characters filled with both anger and humour. Cinderella starts out as the orphaned girl, I added mental cruelty to the treatment. She is a girl without love who finds love.”

This season of Cinderella contains a special ‘first steps’ performance, for the first time at the Birmingham Hippodrome. This is especially for pre-school children and contains a full orchestra. This performance lasts just under the hour and has a narrator, as well as mime and dance that children are encouraged to join in with.

The classic Peter Wright ballet Coppelia is also part of the new season. David explained the challenges of staging classic pieces;-

“Keeping a ballet fresh is always a challenge, especially when the ballet is from the golden age of ballet (19th Century).”

As well as Coppelia, June will see a performance of three short ballets, including Arcadia, the first ballet by Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Ruth Brill. David said:-

I’m always interested in the future. Swan Lake was a new ballet once.”

I got chance to have a chat with David Bintley and asked about the possibility of re-staging Giselle, my favourite ballet. The answer was watch this space, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Birmingham Hippodrome. New Season Launch. 16th January 2017. Picture by Simon Hadley. 07774 193699 mail@simonhadley.co.uk www.simonhadley.co.uk

Birmingham Hippodrome. New Season Launch. 16th January 2017.
Picture by Simon Hadley.

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Kash Bennett – National Theatre

Kash Bennett from the National Theatre chatted about The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is returning to the Hippodrome after a previous sell-out, highly acclaimed run. The play which centres around an austistic boy, Christopher, is one of the great success stories of modern theatre. As Kash explained:-

“The key to the story is that you need to get into Christopher’s head – the set is key…”

“In a cynical and scary world we want to see stories of bravery and kindness and honesty. Christopher can’t tell a lie, he’s not able to. He achieves through bravery and perseverance.”

You can read a review of Curious Incident here, it really is an incredible piece of theatre, and, as Kash says, the set is totally key, so I won’t spoil it by divulging any details.

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The New season is looking amazing at the Birmingham Hippodrome. Look out for upcoming reviews.