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Birmingham Royal Ballet in High Wycombe

Posted on June 24, 2013


Mixed Bill
Lyric Pieces, Bitesized Ballet, Pineapple Poll
Birmingham Royal Ballet, Swan Theatre, High Wycombe – May 21, 2013

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s “split-tour” nomenclature suggests a glass half empty. Its notion of “south west” is misleading too, extending to the doorstep of London – to High Wycombe. The company – well this half of it – looked fresh and danced with typical verve. In cash tight times, this half-pint tour delves into BRB’s back catalogue and economically creates more outings for ballets recently performed. Pint glass full, there were no short measures for the Wycombe audience.

Always musical, blurring the line between classical and contemporary vocabularies, Jessica Lang’s Lyric Pieces echoes the shifting moods of Edvard Grieg piano miniatures, creating a text that satisfyingly can be read in different ways. Support from Molo Design means product placement in the form of expandable space dividers, black concertinas manipulated to create different environments. Their inclusion was an aural and visual distraction but did disguise some lachrymose choreography for the women. Lang’s writing for the men is more forceful. Best is a duet for Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay, whose bodies flow between each other in molten yearning.

BRB describes a collection of pas de deux as “Bitesized Ballet”, again an unappealing appellation. More attractive were the dancers whose personalities smoothed rough technical edges. Maureya Lebowitz was crisply aligned with William Bracewell as “harvesters” from Giselle. He displayed a buoyant jump, lovely beaten steps and some off-kilter partnering.

Forty years ago, a Covent Garden gala celebrated the UK’s newly granted membership of the European Union. Such cultural diplomacy is hard to imagine now although 300 demonstrators chanting Nazi slogans greeted the VIP audience then. A remnant of that occasion is Kenneth MacMillan’s Pavane, first embodied by Antoinette Sibley and Anthony Dowell.

Delia Mathews and Brandon Lawrence do not have such intuitive rapport as their illustrious precursors but cautiously negotiated their own way through MacMillan’s controlled partnering and convoluted lifts. The man’s solo, legato lines and billowing shirt, can look effeminate but Lawrence was strongly masculine. Set to Gabriel Fauré, the tone is tender, unusual fare for a gala offering. Which can scarcely be said of the Don Quixote pas de deux through which Momoko Hirata and Tzu-Chao Chou zipped with engaging freshness – though the fireworks really only ignited with Chou’s turns and jumps.

In spite of – because of – my teenage fascination with all things G&S I found John Cranko’s Pineapple Poll thin beer, when seen from the further reaches of the Manchester Opera House some 35 years ago. Seen close-up at the Wycombe Swan, played allegro and danced fortissimo, this BRB Poll is genuinely funny.

Charles Mackerras’ mash up of Arthur Sullivan is gaudy but wittily apt. Mrs Dimple twitters at young lovers Blanche and Belaye to the chattering chorus used to similar effect in The Pirates of Penzance. Cranko misses W S Gilbert’s satirical edge; instead his influence was more Léonide Massine’s eccentrics, characters seized with relish by the ever-theatrical BRB. As Mrs Dimple, that quiverful busybody, Yijing Zhang delights, strangely reminiscent of Dr Evadne Hinge or Sue Perkins, depending on your vintage, ad libbing gloriously with her broken brolly. Mackay’s Belaye was outstanding: a casual pointing of a foot, a nonchalant shrug and a flurry of entrechats suggesting climbing the rigging, Mackay was every inch the very model of a modern naval captain. He had all the insinuating swagger of a young George Cole in the St Trinian’s films.

The choice of ballets and venues, the performance opportunities for all ranks of the company make BRB’s split-tours a valuable part of the dance calendar. I hope the company will venture further afield in this format – but BRB, do improve your marketing of these tours.


Above, Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay in Lyric Pieces. Photograph by Bill Cooper.

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