Posted on September 16, 2010
Like a tin of Quality Street, Strictly Dancing promised to offer something for everyone. From grandiose Russian classicism to Greek fable infused with English school romanticism via the 20th century nostalgia of partner dancing, Birmingham Royal Ballet delivered an ensemble as part of its autumn season best described as eclectic.
It was the first time that these three pieces had been sandwiched together – Marius Petipa’s Paquita, Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs and Frederick Ashton’s Daphnis and Chloë – diverse in style and presented under a “Strictly” umbrella that traded on the popularity of ballroom’s film and TV alter ego.
The ensemble opened with Paquita, an opulent spectacle swathed in a baroque stage set, complete with crystal chandeliers. The corps de ballet, in burnished peach platter tutus, were a delight to the eye performing synchronised choreography which complemented the principals.
Nao Sakuma executed the movements with much aplomb and a series of turning fouettés en pointe was a showstopper. While Chi Cao, as the only male dancer, cut a swathe across the stage with his majestic athleticism demonstrated by seven superb double tours en l’air.
Nine Sinatra Songs, which followed, was in stark comparison with the richness of the 19th-century classic. Stripped down to a bare stage, but for the huge glitter ball, seven couples each performed to a Sinatra recording and came together – first three and then all seven – for the two interpretations of “My Way”.
The duets emulated tango and foxtrot, with some literal interpretation of lyrics (“Something Stupid” being an obvious contender) and characterisation of couples in various stages of relationships from the coy to the steamy. I found the recapitulation dances – as recently performed on TV’s “Strictly Come Dancing” far too busy. As each couple went about dancing “their way”, there was too much going on to capture the finesse of the dances and the absence of the orchestra – such a glorious element to the Paquita experience – made Frank’s songs a little soulless.
The final piece, Ashton’s Daphnis and Chloë, is a recent acquisition for BRB but suited the company well. Set to a rousing Ravel score, it depicts the romance between a goatherd and shepherdess, her kidnap by pirates and rescue by Pan. Created for Margot Fonteyn and Michael Somes in 1951, this ballet has the look and feel of the period which was difficult to shake given the accompaniment of John Craxton’s original sets and costumes. At times, it seemed a little padded-out in an attempt to stretch this simple tale to a 55-minute performance. But the homage to Greek folk dance, ethereal devices in the depiction of Pan and the villainy of pirate and love rivals made it a delight to watch.
Pictured are Laura Purkiss and Jonathan Cagioua in Nine Sinatra Songs. Photograph © Bill Cooper.