Can’t yet tell your pirouettes from your pas-de-chats? Beth Baker-Wyse travels to Birmingham to uncover two productions from a company sure to provide a dazzling emersion into the world of theatrical dance.
‘The Ballet’s ridiculously expensive, no-one speaks and it’s only for snobs.’ You may have heard and even said this yourself; and you’d be behind the times to do so. Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Swan Lake sold out so quickly an additional show was added, whilst triple bill Opposites Attract combined strobe lighting, men in skirts and jazz music to make for a performance like no other.
Act One opened with Company Director David Bintley’s ‘cooler and classical’ interpretation of balletic jazz ‘Take Five’. Life was made to look easy and elastic, with the infectious saxophone melody and playful intricacy of footwork calling for a buzz of clapping, toe tapping and chatter right through into the interval.
We were treated to an emotionally engaging performance of American choreographer Jessica Lang’s ‘Lyric Pieces’ in the following act, with the simply dressed dancers using a series of moveable pieces of black card to narrate their movements. The style was fluid and poignant in its portrayal of relationships of wit, woe and aching regret.
‘Grosse Fuge’, performed to the music of Beethoven and the Ballet’s final act took a wildly contrasting turn from what had been seen so far. The basic strobe lighting worked to accentuate everything that was angular and aggressive about the interaction between the sexes, with the basic flesh leotard wearing females and the topless black skirted men proving that Opposites really do attract.
I say Ballet, you say; Swan Lake, most likely. Universally of the most popular performances of all time, Sir Peter Wright’s production in the care of the company does nothing less than impress. Setting the scene with the celebration of Prince Siegfried’s 21st Birthday, the protagonist is quick to succumb to the allure of the lakeside by moonlight, at which point he is introduced to Odette and the wicked magician Rothbart who has cast a spell over her and her companions, turning them into Swans. As they dance adoration develops, and a smitten Siegfried is still ignorant to the charms of the sumptuous Hungarian, Polish and Italian princesses present at his ball.
A dark Odile swept silence across the audience, with Nao Sakuma catching every essence of what it is to be evil whilst sporting truly fearless technique. Aside from the tender performance of the two lovers it is the corps de ballet that really made the later lakeside sections. As the host of swans rose from the creeping mist of Act 4 to protect Odette from what was eventually coming to her, the sheer scale of the precision and teamwork involved by all was left lingering long after the performance had ended.
Opposites Attract and Swan Lake ran at the Birmingham Hippodrome from 26th September – 6th October. Visit the company’s website http://www.brb.org.uk for more information as well as dates for the hotly anticipated Cinderella running over the Christmas period.
All images have been granted Label Online permission for use by the Birmingham Royal Ballet.