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Birmingham Royal Ballet in Stravinsky! A Celebration and Romeo and Juliet at Sadler’s Wells

Posted on October 19, 2010

Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Stravinsky programme was the unexpected hit of this Sadler’s Wells season. Triple bills are proverbially hard to sell, but ticket sales were brisk, audiences friendly. This season has brought a crop of new dancers, including the Estonian Linnar Looris, whom I saw as Balanchine’s Apollo. This was a sure, confident performance. Like the rest of his new company, Looris approaches this masterpiece with a respect that can be too polite. I’d like bolder, brighter rhythm from all the dancers. But Looris dances strongly, his steps cleanly articulated, while his gestures are lucid and well-timed. Virginia de Gersigny was a crisp Terpsichore, with Momoko Hirata and Laura Purkiss lively in the handmaidens’ dances.

 As Mary Clarke reported from Birmingham in the June issue of Dancing Times, Kim Brandstrup’s new Pulcinella is lost in murk, half-hidden by Steven Scott’s looming set and dim lighting. But the disappointment goes beyond the design. Brandstrup’s choreography dithers along to Stravinsky’s vivid score. Steps are huddled together, making fluent but shapeless numbers. If Brandstrup gave his images room to breathe, they might register more strongly. As it is, they’re lost in the muddle. Still, it’s tailored to these dancers. Led by Robert Parker and Ambra Vallo, the whole company looks lively and bright.

I rushed to see Carol-Anne Millar in The Firebird, having heard splendid reports of her Birmingham debut. She’s a bold dancer, with a high, bounding jump. You can see her power, as well as her aerial quality, as she soars through the enchanted garden. Millar sometimes exaggerates her facial expressions, eyes glaring, but it’s good to see a Firebird so fierce, so furious at her captivity. Jamie Bond was a fine Ivan Tsarevich, caught up in the ballet’s fairytale world. As in Birmingham, Barry Wordsworth conducted a rousing performance from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia: exhilarating in the infernal dance, grand in the glorious finale.

Zoë Anderson


Fresh from the success of their “Ballet Changed My Life: Ballet Hoo” project (see Dancing Times November issue), Birmingham Royal Ballet brought their production of Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet to Sadler’s Wells at the conclusion of their week-long season. Not having seen their Romeo for quite a number of years, I was eager to reacquaint myself with BRB’s production. It was good to see the ballet again with a different “look” (especially as Nicholas Georgiadis’ final redesign of the ballet in 2000 was far less successful, in my opinion, than his earlier versions), and it was good to see how well BRB perform the ballet. I had forgotten the beauty of the late Paul Andrews designs. Based on Italian renaissance paintings and frescoes, the sets are similar and yet entirely unlike the more grandiose Georgiadis designs at Covent Garden, and the costumes are authentically rich in texture and hue. The market place and the Capulet’s ballroom are a marvellous hive of activity, and Andrews’ placement of the more intimate scenes at the front of the stage helps focus the audience’s attention on the drama – especially in Juliet’s bedroom.

On the evening of October 28, BRB presented a young cast of dancers in the principal roles, some of who had also appeared in the “Ballet Hoo” televised performance. Jenna Roberts, a seemingly natural MacMillan dancer, performed with youthful sweetness and strength of purpose, most notably in her determined and headstrong account of Act III. She was well partnered by Jamie Bond, whose virile and sturdy dancing could not disguise the fact that he does not quite, as yet, have the stamina for so arduous a role as Romeo.

Australian born Alexander Campbell (a dancer new to me) was an excellent Mercutio, who gave, quite simply, the best performance of the difficult ballroom solo I have seen in years. He made it look flexible, nuanced and humorous – unlike many of his stodgy predecessors. Also outstanding was Tyrone Singleton, who made much of the usually bland character of Paris. Handsome and noble, he showed with clarity the increasing humiliation that Paris felt each time Juliet snatched her hand away before he could kiss it. This was well–judged and sensitive performance from an intelligent artist.

The company as a whole were on very good form, and Joseph Caley as the lead in the Mandolin Dance was exceptional.

Jonthan Gray

Zoë was born in Edinburgh, and saw her first dance performances at the Festival there. She is the dance critic of The Independent, and has also written for The Independent on Sunday, The Scotsman and Dancing Times. In 2002, she received her doctorate from the University of York for a thesis on “Nationhood and epic romance: Ariosto, Sidney, Spenser”. She is the author of The Royal Ballet: 75 Years and The Ballet Lover’s Companion.

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