Yuki Sugiura and Daria Stanciulescu in The Seventh Symphony.

Pictures: Johan Persson

Into The Music

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


In China it might be the year of the tiger but in Birmingham’s Chinatown it is the year of BRB with it’s best triple bill for many a year.

Three pieces, all different, all intriguing and all contemporary but still unashamedly and essentially ballet, with a technically outstanding world premiere to boot.

The appointment of ballet superstar Carlos Acosta as director has given the company a lift, set it in a new direction, gleefully taking on board new commissions and new ideas to compliment BRB’s solid core repertoire.

He has even made the company into movie stars with some 200 cinemas screening Acosta’s Don Quixote on 26 October with an encore on 6 November. It is a performance filmed at Birmingham Hippodrome back in February.

Into the Music opened with Forgotten Land, six couples, distinguished by colour, red, black, beige and so on , from Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián, who takes part in each performance – the bleak winds sweeping across the stage that opens the piece with the statuesque dancers facing a John Macfarlane seascape rear wall is the sound of Kylián breathing into a microphone – as the dancers are told, he is with you every performance.  

ogotten Lands

Forgotten Lands

The music is the at times haunting, Sinfonia da requiem Op.20 by Benjamin Britten and the dance was inspired by a painting by Norwegian artist, Edvard Munch, who was much more than just The Scream.

His painting The Dance of Life depicted a woman in the three stages of her life, as a young unworldly girl in white, as a woman in red and finally as an older woman in black, alone and watching her younger selves.

Although all six couples play their part it is the three colours of the painting who have the telling and difficult pas de deux with Momoko Hirata and César Morales as the black pairing Yaoqian Shang and Mathias Dingman as the red duo and Eilis Small and the appropriately named Callum Findlay-White as the white couple.

Isabella Howard and Lennert Steegen danced the grey while Karla Doorbar and Riku Ito were the pink with Rachele Pizzillo and Louis Andreasen as the beige adding more sides and nuances to what in essence, in Munch’s painting, is the journey through life of one woman, in this case the delightful and diminutive Momoko Hirata in black.

The second piece, Hotel, is a world premier, a Ballet Now commission, and is an audio visual feast for any technophobe, this is video learning how to dance.

If you have two left feet, the rhythmic ability of a house brick and hate dancing, you will still be fascinated by what is not just dance but visual art with a mix of recorded video, live feeds from two roving cameras on stage, and static cameras dotted around all projected on an award winning set from Sami Fendall, whose brief was a set that would represent a hotel but would also serve as a video screen.


arm head

Matilde Rodrigues as the weird arm head in the Hotel

The result is a dance piece with live dancers in the flesh and live on screen, or recorded or real or . . . there is a lot going on, including a touch of the Jekyll and Hyde’s – be careful of the mash next time you are in a hotel by the way – and then there are arm heads, or to be honest, what appeared to be turkeys looking for alternative employment to Christmas. Told you to avoid the mash.

It’s a piece by choreographer Morgann Runacre-Temple in collaboration with Jess and Morgs Films; with the film concept and direction by Jessica Wright and Morgann Runacre-Temple – so no prizes for guessing where Jess and Morgs comes from - with additional filming from Imogen Harvey.

The music, often insistent and dictating the pace with everything from harp to jazz is by Mikael Karlsson and a mention for the lighting from Kieron Johnson. There is clever use of stark white beams in the flies aimed behind the V shaped set, with smoke adding an air of mystery, doors open into light or dark, wall lights add to the hotel feel when needed, lighting all helping to make the scene that of a busy hotel, welcoming, sinister, dark, frightening . . . whatever the mood.

And that was the choreographer’s reason for using a hotel as the setting, it is busy, strangers coming together, guests who are friendly or less so, staff and customers, an upstairs downstairs pecking order, constant movement and drama with a constantly changing cast of characters.

karla and gus

Karla Doorbar and Gus Payne  in The Seventh Symphony

We had Tzu-Chao Chou as the manager with his assistant Beatrice Parma, along with guests Sofia Liñares and Javier Rojas; Lucy Waine and Gabriel Anderson and Haoliang Feng. With Bell Boys Riku Ito who also handled the camera on a gimble, Gus Payne, who doubled up on the second camera, and Eric Pinto Cata with Matilde Rodrigues as the arm head.

The final piece was danced to the four movements of Beethoven’s celebrated seventh symphony with choreography by Uwe Scholz. It premiered with Stuttgart Ballet in 1991 but this is its first performance by BRB.

It is a piece performed by more than 30 dancers and highlights once again the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia as Birmingham’s other renowned symphony orchestra, this time under conductor Thomas Jung.

It opens with the cast facing the rear of the stage with the men in what appear at first to be spray on costumes designed by the choreographer, tight being an understatement, here.

There are notable pairings among the dancers such as Céline Gittens and Brandon Lawrence, Yijing Zhang and Tyrone Singleton and Miki Mizutani, and  Lachlan Monaghan in the opening movement, but this was a piece danced beautifully by much of the company who all played their part.

This is a piece which is about dance, the joy of dance, which fits in with the music, premiered in 1813 when Beethoven was already suffering from the progressing deafness, yet full of optimism.

There is no obvious story, no theme, just a celebration of the art of dance, of classical ballet wearing a contemporary cloak, with movement becoming one with the music.

After the trials of Covid BRB have come out, like Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 full of optimism. The symphony was in A major, and that nicely sums up an excellent triple bill.

Roger Clarke


For information on Don Quixote screenings.


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