Beauty and the Beast casts a spell at the Birmingham Hippodrome

One of the most beloved of all fairy stories proved to be equally as enchanting when performed as a ballet, when Beauty and the Beast weaved it’s spell at the Birmingham Hippodrome last night. The latest production by the Birmingham Royal Ballet told that age of told of love conquering all with a mixture of menace and charm, and with an ending that was sublimely romantic.

The story is the one we are all familiar with, an angry violent Prince is transformed into a beast by a woodsman disgusted by his bloody pursuit of a vixen. Meanwhile, a down-on-his-luck merchant, faced with baliffs and creditors, is waiting for a fleet of cargo ships that are suddenly seen on the coast. Promising to bring his avaricious elder daughters all manner of jewels, his youngest, and favourite daughter Belle wants nothing more than a freshly picked rose. But the merchant’s journey turns from joy to fear when he is first robbed during a storm, and then gets lost. Finding himself in a strange house, he is fed by unseen hands and then roused to sleep. On waking, he discovers his cargo has been returned, and rushes home, but not before plucking a rose for Belle. Unfortunately the rose belongs to the strange, angry beast-like Prince, who demands Belle in return. The rest of the story is, as they say, well known history.

The lead roles are all uniformly excellent. Delia Matthews makes an enchanting Belle, her lightness of step and gentle mannerisms contrast markedly with her elder sister’s, who are all rapid movements and flouncing steps. The use of white costumes for Beauty mean she is an ethereal, pure presence who quite literally lights up the stage. In contrast, the Beast (Tyrone Singleton) is a dark and brooding presence. His frustration, virility, anger and menace is tempered by his gentleness towards beauty, and is able of showing both sides to the Beastly character. He is genuinely frightening when he attacks Belle’s father, and yet heartbreaking when he is dying from lost love. One scene in particular that stays in your mind is when he shields his face from Belle after seeing her beauty, it shows the Beast’s vulnerability and is quite beautiful and poignant.

The supporting cast are also superb, from James Barton who is hilarious as the piglike Cochon, courting both of Belle’s sisters in the funniest scenes.  Yaoqian Shang as Wild Girl, protecting the Beast who once tried to kill her when she was a the vixen is just lovely, especially when she takes on the mannerisms of the vixen, all coquettish and light of movement. Marion Tait is once again hilarious, this time as ‘Grandmere’, adding laughs to the wedding scene, which, in itself is one of the most delightful set pieces. The Raven, and the Birds of the Air, were also truly wonderful in the scene when they were transferring Belle to the Prince’s castle, there are elements of a Busby Berkley chorus line in this dance.

A mention must be made of the set, which is almost a character in itself. Constant scene changes are flawless, and the dark, haunting castle is awe-inspiring in the way it helps to create the mood. The Royal Ballet Sinfonia were also on top form, capturing humour, heartbreak and love with ease.

If you like your ballet dark, but with a sprinkling of humour, and a truly happy ending, then Beauty and the Beast is definitely one not to miss.

Beauty and the Beast runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 2nd March. Click here for ticket information.

The Nutcracker brings Christmas Magic to Birmingham

A visit to see ‘The Nutcracker’ always signifies the start of my Christmas. The classic Tchaikovsky ballet which tells the magical story of the night before Christmas, is a seasonal treat that arrived at the Birmingham Hippodrome this weekend, delighting audiences young and old.

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To put it simply, The Nutcracker is Christmas, especially when staged by the fabulous Birmingham Royal Ballet, celebrating 25 years in 2015. It is sparkle and glitter, excitement and anticipation, presents and children, and, most of all dreams and magic. This is all reflected in the exquisite set design, which transforms from a sumptuous Victorian home, complete with an enormous Christmas Tree (courtesy of Prince Albert, who introduced them in 1840), to a veritable winter wonderland, with bleak midwinter trees and falling snow. Simply spellbinding.

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The story of The Nutcracker tells of Clara, a young girl who is presented with a Nutcracker doll by a magician, Drosselmeyer. As night falls Clara is unable to sleep, so creeps downstairs to collect her Nutcracker from under the Christmas tree. But magic is afoot, and the sitting room grows and changes to a sinister enclave filled with giant rats, all of whom seem to want to hurt Clara. The Nutcracker then springs to life, along with her brothers toy soldiers to run to the defence of the young girl. Thus starts a night of dream adventures that encompass dancers from many different lands, a flying dove and a Sugarplum fairy.

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As Clara, Laura Purkiss is wonderful, her dancing is full of charm and youthful elegance. Celine Gittens is a memorable Sugar Plum fairy, so beautiful and majestic when dancing with the Prince. And, as the Prince, Tyrone Singleton, who I adored in Carmina Burana shows that he is the Prince of sensual romance, with a performance that combines drama and sensitivity.

The famous score soars across the theatre, played so expertly by the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia, and, as the performance comes to a close, it is clear that, 25 years on, Birmingham Audiences are still as enchanted by The Nutcracker as they were 25 years ago.

The Nutcracker is at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 13th December. Click here for ticket information.

Birmingham Royal Ballet The King Dances/Carmina Burana

The Birmingham Royal Ballet celebrated David Bintley’s 20th anniversary as director with the opening of a new double header. The World Premiere of ‘The King Dances’ and a revival of ‘Carmina Burana’ promised to bring drama, morality, sex and just a little bit of horror to the Birmingham Hippodrome, and this was all delivered in spectacular style.

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The King Dances

The King Dances is a brand new ballet from David Bintley. Freely based on Le Ballet de la Nuit from 1653, and on the legendary Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, ‘The King Dances taps into dance and theatre from history by being performed by a company almost wholly made up of male dancers. This leads to a performance highly charged with masculine virility, with the dancing being vigorous and dominant.

We are taken through night by night himself (La Nuit – a dramatic turn by the always amazing Iain Mackay.) The golden haired king (William Bracewell – Le Roi) enjoys dancing as the sun departs and night arrives, and is later charmed by the beauty of the moon (Selene, La Lune Yijing Zhang – enchanting).

Things really come alive in ‘The Third Watch’, when the King’s restful sleep is utterly disturbed by a series of horrifying night terrors. This is exhilarating to watch, as the demons and satyrs, werewolves and magicians all seem to be ready to devour the terrified King. The haunting, menacing music, performed with vigour and drive by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia,  lends this the feel of Dante’s inferno, and the staging is excellent – creatures just seem to materialise from the darkness.

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Carmina Burana

Carmina Burana is a thoroughly modern ballet, one filled with drama, sex and humour. From the moment you hear the opening strains of ‘Oh Fortuna’ you know that this is going to be a high octane piece of performing arts – the music has been used to good effect in everything from’ The Omen’ to the Old Spice add and Fortuna herself, Celine Gittens, is lithe and sensuous  in her delivery of the dance.

Carmina Burana is a modern day morality piece from David Bintley, following the fortunes of three Seminarians who lose their faith (signified by the casting off of dog collars.) We then follow them as they fall in love with the wrong people, lose themselves to violence and rage, and ultimately seem to be enthralled by Fortuna herself. The ballet is dazzling in its lust and sexuality, but is also very funny, and has nods to Busby Berkeley, West Side Story and Weimar Germany in it’s scantily dressed dancers straight from the Kit Kat Club.

The scene which lingers long in the memory is ‘The Court of Love’, a beautiful pas de deux filled with a mixture of tenderness and lust. Tyrone Singleton is magnificent as ‘Sick with Love’, performing most of his dance in just his underparts, showing the fluidity and grace of his movements.

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Carmina Burana is hugely entertaining and very crowd pleasing, and teamed with The King Dances, this makes a superb evening for ballet lovers.

The King Dances/Carmina Burana runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until 2oth June.