The dramatic skirts from Lazuli Sky. Pictures: Johan Persson
Birmingham Royal Ballet
After watching Birmingham Royal Ballet for years from the privileged seats afforded to critics it was a strange experience to see familiar dancers on the telly – not better or worse . . . just different.
For anyone who watches BRB from any distance from the stage at Birmingham Hippodrome, or indeed in theatres on tour from Sunderland to Salford to Plymouth, this streamed production is a chance to see the complex and elegant footwork and movement, the tiny gesture and expressions, at close quarters.
Even for we dyed in the wool, old hacks, there are new angles to enjoy such as the overhead shots, which particularly in the eponymous Lazuli Sky, has echoes of the wonderful cinematographic choreography of film director Busby Berkeley.
There is even an opening shot of the stage crew –often forgotten but no show happens without them – and dancers preparing with rosin on ballet shoes with their industrial strength toes. A glimpse of the intimate moments backstage we never usually get to see.
As for the performance, well in pre-COVID days we would have called it a triple bill, these days it is a promise of a future, one put on hold again from Thursday.
The opening is Our Waltzes from Venezuelan dancer and choreographer Vicente Nebrada for 10 dancers, five couples in contrasting costumes of flowing dresses and shirts in Red (Momoko Hirata, César Morales); Brown (Yijing Zhang, Yasuo Atsuji); Lilac (Samara Downs, Tyrone Singleton); Pink (Yaoqian Shang, Mathias Dingman); and Orange (Miki Mizutani, Tzu-Chao Chou).
The music, all played by the wonderful Royal Ballet Sinfonia pianist Jonathan Higgins, comes from a variety of Venezuelan composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries including Teresa Carreño, Salvador Llamozas, Manuel Guadalajara, Isabel de Maury, Sofia Limonta, Ramon Delgado Palacios, Heraclio Fernández and it does have a South American feel – at times even sounding like orquesta típica adapted for piano.
The result is a whirl of delicate, romantic pas de deux and ensemble pieces in a kaleidoscope of movement and colour set to a South America flavour of waltz.
The second piece is much shorter, a solo piece Liebestod from Russian born Valery Panov. (See Panov’s interesting CV HERE).
Liebestod translates from the German as love death and is the title of the dramatic climax to Richard Wagner's Tristan und Isolde as Isolde sings over Tristan’s dead body. The music here has been arranged by Iain Farrington and played by a much reduced Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Philip Ellis.
Brandon Lawrence in Liebestod
The piece is danced by principal Brandon Lawrence who at times seems like an animated Vitruvian man - with briefs added to Leonardo’s original – in a slow, precise piece opening from an almost foetal position and growing steadily in a dance that demands not only technique but remarkable balance, quickening to a climax then fading back to nothing.
The final piece is the world premiere of Lazuli Sky choreographed by Birmingham born Will Tuckett, who seems to have choreographed for everyone but BRB – until now. It is set to American composer John Adams’ Shaker Loops played by a string septet from the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under conductor Paul Murphy – not the easiest to play as it is the best part of half an hour of repeated loops on oscillating strings with hands vibrating rather than normal playing – urgent, insistent music almost like a swarm of tuneful bees.
With a cast of 12, (Damen Axtens, Laura Day, Karla Doorbar, Ryan Felix, Haoliang Feng, Kit Holder, Yu Kurihara, Gus Payne, Emma Price, Tom Rogers, Eilis Small and Yuki Sugiura) the piece takes us through squares, circles and a vortex on a projected floor and back wall with a frame of light ascending and descending at times – clever stuff from designers Samuel Wyer and Nina Dunn, the latter also responsible for video design, and lighting design from the ever reliable Peter Teigen. The movement mirrors the music much of the time which makes the break in pace and moments of physical stillness amid the shaking music all the more dramatic.
There is a moment when the six female dancers don huge skirts which create fascinating elegant patterns from both the audience line of vision and the Busby Berkeley view from above in the flies. At times it is like watching a fleet of celestial schooners sailing serenely by.
As a performance you miss the experience of actually going out, that tinge of excitement, that anticipation of live theatre as the curtain rises, but, on the plus side, you do see ballet and dance from a different perspective and, at times, you see it up close and personal. You can watch it on tablets, PCs, phones, virtually anywhere with internet and a browser. It might not be sitting in a theatre watching a live performance, but, in these troubled times, it is the next best thing. To 08-11-20.
As a new venture it is a resounding success. BRB and theatres cannot survive on socially distanced audiences, you just can’t get enough bums on seats to cover costs so this is very much a compromise – a live performance with income then boosted by streaming, taking the magic of ballet and dance out into the wider world
I must admit that the last time I reviewed TV was far into last century at a time when I still had hair, so it was a trip down memory lane, oh . . . and I seem to remember I had a memory then as well. Set up was novel when I discovered my smart TV is . . . well, not really that smart but Amazon Firestick came to the rescue.
It is easy to buy tickets for streaming HERE and they cost £10 or you can make an extra donation by paying an optional £15 or £20 for a ticket. The ticket is for the device you watch it on, which means the whole family can watch for a tenner – less than the price of a single ticket at the theatre.