Spike Kilburn's dramatic urban setting for Peter and the Wolf. Picture: Andrew Ross


Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


Choreographer Ruth Brill’s new version of Peter and The Wolf is the star of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s latest triple bill, [UN]LEASHED, a retelling of Sergei Prokofiev’s symphonic fairy tale for children.

It is a charming family ballet adding dance to Prokofiev’s narrated musical piece which was originally commissioned by the Central Children’s Theatre in Moscow in 1936 – the intention of which was to introduce children to the instruments and sections of the orchestra.

As Prokofiev’s most performed, indeed one of classical music’s most performed and recorded works the music is as familiar as any – and adds a touch of nostalgia to the evening as we hear its well-known themes.

There is Peter, Prokofiev’s young pioneer, Russia’s equivalent of Boy Scouts,  represented by the strings and danced with boyish charm by Laura Day.

Tzu-Chao Chou flits about splendidly as bird to his flute accompaniment while Brooke Ray, the soon to be  late duck, squabbles and waddles wonderfully to her oboe theme until she becomes a ready meal.

Samara Downs slinks sexily about with a sort of elegant, sinister grace as befits the cat, who is a baddy, but a rather low key one as it turns out, prowling to her strains of clarinet.

The real baddy is Mathias Dingman’s grey hooded wolf, all macho aggression spurred on by three French horns while warning Peter of dire lupine consequences is dear old Grandfather, angry that Peter has gone beyond the gate and put himself in danger,

A ponderous bassoon helping James Barton’s, or to be fair, his character’s creaking old limbs.

Then finally the hunters, Tori Forsyth-Hecken, Alys Shee and Eilis Small, emerge from the woods seeking the wolf only to find he has been captured by brave Peter and the bird and join the procession taking him to the zoo, all narrated by Hollie McNish.

It is an easy story to follow on simple and effective set from Spike Kilburn lit by Peter Teigen.

The opening piece is Jessica Lang’s Lyric Pieces with music by Edvard Grieg played quite beautifully by pianist Jonathan Higgins.

This is a piece as much about origami, paper sculpture, magic or whatever you call the cubes or huge blocks of paper which open up rather like those Christmas decorations that are flat and open into huge crepe balls.

It gives us a series of dances with the ballerinas in wonderful flowing costumes cut on the bias. There is a notable pas de deux with Brandon Lawrence and Céline Gittens among quartets and ensemble pieces which range from fun to sensuous.

The real stars though are the black paper softwall designs from Stephanie Forsythe and Todd MacAllen at – the dancing is excellent, the moving set fascinating.

Flanked by the previous two pieces is a world premiere of Sense of Time with music, by Gabriel Prokofiev, who is incidentally, grandson of Sergei and studied composition at Birmingham University.

The stage is dominated by a wall of drab, olive suitcases in Joanna Dias’s design while Dutch choreographer Didy Veldman clever varies the pace of the work so we have the suitcase wall being laboriously pushed around by two workmen while dancers rush around, or time stops as a couple sit at a suitcase table, there are pauses, frantic moments, everyone leaves and Brandon Lawrence tries out for a porter’s job as he carries about ten cases off stage.

Veldman tells us the piece is about time and how we use it and how it changes but the wall has extra significance these days with the divisions and barriers of Brexit and Donald Trump’s obsession with bricklaying down Mexico way.

There is also a precision about the piece as certain cases are removed, get it wrong and the whole thing might collapse, and there is a wit and an elegance at times as the dancers either rush or relax or even stop.

Suitcases suggest travel, suggest a journey, change, holiday, a new life, even a return, or perhaps just a life of memories stacked in a loft, somehow telling a different story to anyone watching. It might not go anywhere fast, but then it is not too slow either. Time is like that, you get the sense it is sort of . . . well . . . constant. To 15-06-19

Roger Clarke



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