jenna and Iain

Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay rehearse the adagio pas de deux from Khachaturian’s Spartacus with its creator, BRB director  David Bintley

An Evening of Music and Dance

Birmingham Symphony Hall


You would be hard pressed to find a more fitting stage than the annual showcase of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s talents to say farewell to one of BRB’s finest.

Iain Mackay bowed out after 19 years with the company – 14 as a principal - with two quite different yet equally moving pieces with Jenna Roberts, a pairing that has produced many memorable moments over the years.

The first was the sensual After the Rain pas de deux, the second part of a one act ballet choreographed by the Royal Ballet artistic associate Christopher Wheeldon for the New York City Ballet in 2005 –  a ballet which premiered almost 13 years ago to the day

Set to Arvo Pärt’s haunting, melancholic Spiegel im Spiegel, it was created for American stars Wendy Whelan, who has also been a guest dancer at the Royal Ballet, and Jock Soto, by coincidence shortly before his retirement.

It was a piece danced by Mackay when he left BRB for a year to dance in Spain and was a new introduction to BRB with his chosen partner Roberts.

With BRB’s Royal Ballet Sinfonia leader Robert Gibbs on violin and principal pianist Jonathan Higgins on piano, the music is deceptively simple with the abstract dance of two bodies slowly intertwining like strands of liquid in a quite mesmerising, sensual, hypnotic display.

The second piece was a parting gift from BRB director David Bintley,who created a new piece for the pair, set to the haunting adagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from Khachaturian’s ballet Spartacus with Mackay in the eponymous role and Jenna Roberts as Phrygia, his wife, who, on the eve of battle, tells him she is carrying his child.

The music is sweeping and symphonic – it was used for the theme to BBC’s The Onedin Line – with dancing emotive and romantic with some trademark Mackay lifts in what was an emotional farewell as he leaves to become artistic director of Yorkshire Ballet Summer School.

Those were highlights for reasons beyond music and dance, but they came amid much to enjoy from BRB’s dancers and from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under principal conductor Paul Murphy – appearing on stage rather than under it for once.

This really is a first-class symphony orchestra and this is their annual chance to show it, with pieces which included Englebert Humperdinck's overture to Hansel and Gretel, Korngold's suite from the film The Adventures of Robin Hood and Elgar’s The Wild Bears along with a Slovanic Dance from Antonin Dvořák, Valse triste from Jean Sibelius and The Miller’s Dance and Final Dance from Manuel de Falla’s The Three Cornered Hat. All played with a flourish and panache.

And that did not include accompanying the dance programme which opened with Céline Gittens and Tyrone Singleton in imperious form with the classical pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty, a ballet BRB will be performing at Birmingham Hippodrome next month, opening on 13 February.

Act 1 ended with James Barton enjoying himself as Widow Simone in the celebrated clog dance from La Fille mal gardée – which, in this Frederick Ashton version, was inspired by Lancashire clog dancers – and is a lot more difficult than it looks.

Arancha Baselga and César Morales brought another company premiere to the stage with a pas de deux from Le Spectre de la rose while Momoko Hirata and Mathias Dingman provided a lively finale with a pas de deux and spectacular solos from Don Quixote.

The night ended, appropriately enough, with a standing ovation for Iain Mackay, who will be missed, but the cast behind him on stage show the future of BRB is secure. A chapter has ended and a new one is beginning.

Roger Clarke


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