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A Valentine’s Celebration of Music and Dance

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Symphony Hall


BRB’s annual sojourn to Symphony Hall is always a pleasure, for a start, apart from the promise of wonderful dancing, it is a chance to see the Royal Ballet Sinfonia above ground and actually playing in the light.

In ballets you may see the odd violin bow waving above the parapet or hear the odd chair scrape as they take their underground curtain call in the Hippodrome pit, but once a year we can see them in their glory.

And what an orchestra they are under their enthusiastic principal conductor Paul Murphy who plays every note with them. It means that with the CBSO in tow as well, Birmingham is one of that select band of cities who can boast two world acclaimed symphony orchestras.

They opened with George Gershwin’s overture to the 1930 musical Girl Crazy, a musical which had songs such as Embraceable You and I got Rhythm. In the pit on opening night 90 years ago the orchestra included Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jimmy Dorsey and the man who brought drumming out of the shadows, Gene Krupa. Not a bad line up!

It was ballet to big band without missing beat, and they were back on Broadway later in the evening with a rousing selection from Richard Rodgers’ Oklahoma.

They also gave us Prokófiev’s dramatic Cinderella’s Waltz - Midnight with its incessant ticking of time and the fateful chimes, along with the familiar music of the Polonaise from Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin

We had opera with the Intermezzo from Puccini’s Manon Lescaut and light comic opera with the overture from Franz Lehár’s The Merry Widow.

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The dramatic opening to the second act of Sir Peter Wright's Swan Lake which opens at Birmingham Hippodrome next week

Their contribution didn’t end there though as they went back to the day job of ballet. I mention them first though as, for once, they took centre stage, quite literally, instead of being down page as a footnote to a ballet.

Notable throughout were some exquisite violin solos from orchestra leader Robert Gibbs along with cello solos from, presumably, Antonio Novais.

Back to ballet which saw the doomed love affair between Odette, danced quite beautifully by Samara Downs and Prince Seigfied danced by the elegant Yasuo Atsuji in the second act pas de deux from from Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake.

Incidentally, Sir Peter Wright’s celebrated production opens at Birmingham Hippodrome on Tuesday (18-02-20).

It is not the easiest venue for ballet. There is no scenery or dramatic lighting to create atmosphere, which means the dancers and their technique are the centre of attention on a stage, wide and narrow, in front of the orchestra , a far cry from the vast expanse of the deep Hippodrome stage, yet the pair managed to bring emotion, passion and that hint of tragedy to their roles.

Illness brought a last minute change to the programme which saw Tyrone Singleton and Miki Mizutani step in to dance the pas de deux from David Bintley’s Cinderella with one dramatic one legged lift which had don’t try this at home written all over it. They had just two days rehearsal but it was a performance it would be hard to fault.

Being Valentine’s Day love was certainly in the air and we had the sensuous pas de deux from Sir Frederick Ashton’s The Two Pigeons set to music by André Messager with two lovers, the young girl, Maureya Lebowitz, and the young man, Max Maslen who showed us a burgeoning romance. We even had two real, virginal white pigeons, one who behaved impeccable and the other – well let’s just say no one seems to have given him, or her, a script in pigeon English.

He, or she, was supposed to land on the filigree wrought iron frame to bill and coo with their mate – not set up camp on the edge of the stage in an improv moment. It added a moment of amusement to what had been a lovely romantic interlude.

BRB’s Kit Holder is not only a dancer but an established choreographer and we saw a world premiere of his latest work, The Breath We Took, inspired by a short poem by the late Harold Pinter. It is set to the second movement of Greig’s piano concerto played flawlessly by BRB’s principal pianist Jonathan Higgins.

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Tyrone Singleton and Céline Gittens in BRB's Don Quixote. Picture: Bella Kotak

The inspiration comes from a short love poem from 1990 It is Here, subtitled For A. He was married to Lady Antonia Fraser for 28 years to his death in 2008.

Here we see Céline Gittens, Brandon Lawrence, Rosanna Ely, Alys Shee, Alexander Yap and Haoliang Feng, who break into three couples with the two men and two women flanking Gittens and Lawrence as the main couple in an interesting piece of discovering each other.

Then it was back to doomed love again with Yaoqian Shang as Juliet and César Morales as Romeo in the balcony scene pas de deux of our two teenage star cross’d lovers in Kenneth MacMillan’s production of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet. They managed to give it that first love look in a dance full of hope and youthful passion in their first secret meeting, which takes some doing with a full orchestra behind you.

The final piece was from Carlos Acosta’s production of Don Quixote with music by Ludwig Minkus and choreography by Acosta after Marius Petipa, danced by Mathias Dingman and Momoko Hirata in a pas de deux between lovers Kitri and Basilio with the sort of Latin flair that bodes well for the Hippodrome summer.

Acosta is bringing the ballet to what is now his BRB on June 19 be seen for the first time outside London.

Interviewed by compere Nick Owen he told the audience some of his plans for his BRB, mixing traditional with new and exciting work, adding that people do not need to go to New York, Paris or the Bolshoi to see world class ballet – it is right here on their doorstep. Which brought long and appreciative applause.

After his first month in Birmingham it looks like ballet’s superstar is already making himself at home and is already becoming a local legend.

Roger Clarke


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