Sexuality in silhouette in Embrace.

Polarity & Proximity

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


BRB’s triple bills usually provide a decent fare of dance, with a bit of something for everyone. This trio was perhaps a little different as it gave us three contemporary pieces, all modern with, perhaps, some classical moments.

It opened with Kin., the full point being important to signify it is short for kinetic rather than something to go with kith. The piece premiered at the Crescent Theatre in 2014 when BRB opened that year’s Birmingham International Dance Festival and was the first creation for a major ballet company by ex-BRB dancer Alexander Whitely.

Set to music from The Blue Room and Other Stories by Phil Kline, it opens with Jenna Roberts almost writhing on the floor of the stage, and as other dancers drift in she appears, by choice to be an outsider.

She is a wonderful dancer and will be a great loss to BRB when she leaves at the end of the season – her final dance coming in Romeo and Juliet next week.

She is slowly drawn in to a relationship and her pas de deux with Tyrone Singleton is full of emotion and feeling with Roberts oozing sensuality.

The second piece, Embrace, is the first work under BRB and Saddler’s Wells’ Ballet Now initiative to commission new works from new choreographers and George Williamson has drawn on his own experience as a gay man to create this piece with music, her first for ballet, by American composer Sarah Kirkland Snider.


Delia Mathews and Yasuo Atsuji in In The Upper Room. Picture: Emma Kauldhar

It is a dance about exclusion, about confusion and about identity as Brandon Lawrence’s man attempts, unsuccessfully, to form a heterosexual relationship with the woman danced by Delia Mathews in a series of disjointed embraces and pas de deuxs before being approached and drawn to another man, danced by Max Maslen which results in that rarest of ballet beasts, a male pas de deux.

The piece shows some promise, and, as always, BRB dancers gave it their all, but the feeling was that once it had made its statement about gay love, it did not have a great deal more to say, with the pas de deux more an exercise in dance rather than a piece embracing emotion and desire.

Madeleine Girling’s setting is stark with seven rotating translucent panels at the rear with fluorescent lighting creating an industrial environment. The panels allow for dancers in silhouette behind as well as an illusion of some sort of barrier with Lawrence and Maslen finally walking through to the rear hand in hand.

The stark, industrial set, subdued costumes and dim lighting create a rather bleak and dystopian landscape, and that perhaps is where this piece falters - it seems utterly joyless, and relationships, straight or gay, should never start like that.

Meanwhile, as we are on an industrial theme, BRB seem to be employing an industrial strength smoke machine, either that or they have got a heck of a barbecue going in the wings.

Smoke is a common addition to any staging these days, usually just enough to make beams of light stand out for dramatic effect, but at times there was enough smoke to stage a Hammer Horror of Jack the Ripper or Hound of The Baskervilles.

A bit of smoke can create an ethereal quality but at times, especially at the opening of the final piece, In The Upper Room, ethereal had become lost in fog as you waited for the odd leg or arm to appear out of the mist to give you a clue as to what was happening.

In The Upper Room has a hypnotic recurring theme from Philip Glass, which changes in tone and tempo but is always lurking beneath the surface.

It is a delightful celebration of dance with an ever-changing group of dancers in twos, threes, fives, sixes or, all 13, with stand out performances from the likes of Delia Mathews, Momoko Hirata, Céline Gittens, Kit Holder, Singleton, Maslen and Yasuo Atsuji,

As the dances and personnel changed around them, Ruth Brill and Jade Heusen, joined at times by Laura Purkiss, were almost ever constant, an anchor, a reference point, the conduit through the entire piece. It’s a joyous finale after the bleak embrace. To 23-06-18

Roger Clarke


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