Dance returned to the Birmingham Hippodrome last night with a Summer triple header from the Birmingham Royal Ballet. Composed of Apollo, Interlinked, and the beloved ‘Still Life at the Penguin Cafe’ this was a perfect celebration of ballet in all its guises.
Apollo is just gorgeous, combining the music of Stravinsky with the brilliant 1920s choreography of George Balachine. This is one of ballet director Carlos Acosta’s favourite roles, and it was certainly performed with verve and passion by the brilliant Brandon Lawrence, in his last performances as part of the BRB.
The story of the new God Apollo, wonderfully unveiled by three of the muses, those presiding over music, dance and poetry, and how they tutor him in these creative areas in order to make him the complete creative God. Lawrence is never less than stunning in the role, domineering and virile, whilst totally complimenting the muses, Terpsichore (Celine Gittens – just beautiful), Calliope (Lucy Waine) and Polyhymnia (Amelia Thompson).
Apollo is short story ballet story telling perfection, crowned by the final tableau of Apollo and the muses in classic Greek poses.
Moving the mood right up to the present is Interlinked, a ballet that was created for the Birmingham Festival in the Commonwealth Games Summer of 2022 by Brazilian choreographer Juliano Nunes. It is a beautiful piece of art that pushes boundaries and explores gender and traditional roles. All the dancers wear floaty voile dresses, and male dancers take the role of the female partners in certain dances. It is clever and has the desired impact, I don’t think anyone would bat an eye lid if all dancers were in the more masculine leotards, and also breaks all the cast down to ‘dancers’, rather than male dancers and female dancers. That said, it is also a beautiful and elegant piece of dance.
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 now extinct The Great Auk, danced by the wonderful Reina Fuchigami 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 Karla Doorbar, 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, or is it the melting polar ice caps or another great flood? Is the final scene of animals on the ark an premonition of our future?
Find out more about this triple programme here.