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

 

Dirty Dancing At The New Alex Theatre

Top five chick flicks of all time? If you ask anyone who was a teenager in 1987 they will surely have Dirty Dancing as their number one choice. The coming of age story of Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman, an idealistic young woman who finds her beliefs and hopes tested when she takes a Summer holiday at Kellermans family resort. However she also meets the enigmatic, sexy Johnny Castle when she has to cover for his pregnant dancing partner Penny. They fall in love, but Johnny is certainly from the wrong side of the tracks and is not going to be the choice of her doctor father. Dirty Dancing is one of those feelgood films where you know everything will be sorted by the final scene, but it is none the worse for it.

The stage musical version of this iconic film arrived at the New Alex Theatre in Birmingham last night, whisking the audience off to the Summer of 1963, just before Beatlemania took over the world and it changed forever. The stage show is just as melodic and hypnotic as the film, and with all those famous lines in place (I carried a watermelon, nobody puts Baby in a corner) it is as fun, frothy and quotable as ever.

Dirty Dancing is all about those leads, and Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey are hard shoes to fill, but in Katie Eccles and Robert Colvin, who was stepping in for Lewis Griffiths we have the perfect Baby and Johnny. Katie is great as the idealistic Baby, particularly in those early dancing scenes where her unease and awkwardness make her efforts both poignant and funny. Her later skills show Katie to be a great dancer, particularly during that final scene. Robert is brilliant as Johnny, his playing of the mean and moody dancer is both virile and brooding and his physicality is perfect for the role. It doesn’t hurt matters that he is gorgeous, and with the walk and the physical strength he compares very favourably to Patrick Swayze in the role. He also, in the final scenes, looks like he is really enjoying himself in the role, and this is just infectious.

Penny is played by the outstanding Carlie Miller, her dancing impeccable and her elegance, illustrated best by her amazing legs, with which she performs a range of kicks and moves without breaking a sweat. The hilarious Lizzie Ottley brings the silly, vacuous Lisa Houseman to life with a passion, especially when performing her show tune in the most tuneless of ways, providing one of the comedy highlights of the night. Comedic value is also added by Greg Fossard as the annoying Neil Kellerman, a nerd with a nice range of chat up lines, whilst Sophia Mackay and Michael Kent, as Elizabeth and Billy provide the musical highlights.

The staging is uniformly excellent, with the revolving scenery providing brilliant backdrops that really take you to the Catskills. And, of course, those musical classics from the likes of Otis Reading and Solomon Burke still have the power to soar. Dirty Dancing is entertaining from start to finish, if you love the classic film, you will love this faithful adaptation.

Dirty Dancing

New Alex Theatre

Wed 31 May – Sat 03 June

Click here for ticket information

The Red Shoes – A new classic from Matthew Bourne

A new classic ballet came to life last night, as Matthew Bourne’s version of Powell and Pressburger’s ‘The Red Shoes’ came vividly to life on the stage of the Birmingham Hippodrome. The beautiful haunting story of dancer Victoria Page, and how she is destroyed by her talent and love, is one of the great movies, and now, in the hands of a superb company, the tale that started life as a rather brutal fairy story is recreated for the stage, and shows once again why Matthew Bourne is rightly recognised as a genius of modern dance.

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The Red Shoes is a story of love, jealousy, obsession and determination. Aristocratic Victoria Page longs to be a dancer, and is invited to join an established company by Boris Lermontov, traveling with them to Monte Carlo. When the prima ballerina Irina is injured, Lermontov decides to thrust Victoria forward as the star of a new ballet that he has commissioned talented Composer Julian Craster to write. The ballet is ‘The Red Shoes’ and it is a great success, with Vicky and Julian falling in love. But Lermontov also has feelings for Vicky, and his jealousy forces Julian and Vicky to return to London. There Vicky is forced to confront her feelings – to stay with Julian and abandon her hopes of being a major star, or returning to ‘The Red Shoes’. Her decision leads to a horrifying tragedy.

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The dance and characterisations of The Red Shoes are just stunning. Ashley Shaw is a wonderful Victoria, her dancing is filled with grace and passion in the early scenes, and she breaks your heart in the closing moments. Sam Archer brings Anton Walbrook to mind in the Boris Lermontov role – the arrogant, yet charming persona shines through beautifully, but he also shows  softer side in the pas de deux with Victoria in Monte Carlo. Chris Trenfield is great as Julian, I love his initial scene where he is pretending to conduct an orchestra, showing the passion and determination that will bring him success. His scenes with Shaw are tender and loving, bringing romance to the proceedings.

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The backstage scenes are incredibly staged, with the curtain twisting to show front of house and behind the scenes, and I loved how unengaged Anjali Mehra was as Irina during the rehearsals, contrasting beautifully with Victoria mimicking the dance with verve and beauty off stage. Another brilliant scene was the hilarious music hall scene, with the brilliant sand dancers delighting the audience with their funny, rude dance.

Of course, the crowning glory of The Red Shoes is The Red Shoes, the ballet within the ballet that makes Victoria a star. Based on the folk tale, the power of the shoes makes the wearer unable to stop dancing. This is so beautifully staged, helped by the incredible set and the soaring music of Bernard Herrmann, best known for his Hitchcock scores, and always able to create a mood with a sinister edge. When the imagined audience gives a rousing round of applause for the ballet, the real audience matches it, it is simply sublime.

The Red Shoes will be delighting audiences for many years to come, it is a thing of real beauty.

The Red Shoes

Birmingham Hippodrome

Wednesday 8th – Saturday 11th February

Click here for information