Céline Gittins as Terpsichore and Brandon Lawrence as Apollo. Picture: Johan Persson

Triple Bill

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


Principal dancer Brandon Lawrence leaves for Ballet Zurich at the end of this season and last night he showed just what BRB will be missing as he danced the eponymous role in the opening of the triple bill, Stravinsky’s Apollo.

The 1928 ballet, choreographed by the then 24-year-old George Balanchine, centres on Apollo, the Greek god of music and dance – he is also the god of archery, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the Sun and light, poetry, medicine and plague, livestock, colonization and virtue so did a lot of heavy lifting in Greek mythology.

He is visited by three Muses: Terpsichore, the muse of dance and song danced by Céline Gittens; to whom he gives a harp, Polyhymnia, muse of mime danced by Amelia Thompson, to whom he gives a theatrical mask; and Calliope, muse of poetry, danced by Lucy Waine to whom he gives a scroll.

With classical Greek mythology as its theme Balanchine relies on classical ballet for his choreography which is gentle and romantic with a delicate and delightful pas de deux from Lawrence and Gittens as the centrepiece. It was first performed by BRB in 2003 when Robert Parker danced Apollo, Parker now being the Artistic Director of BRB’s partnered Elmhurst Ballet School.


Apollo and the muses

The second item on the bill is the much more recent Interlinked which had its premiere a year ago. Choreographed by Brazilian Juliano Nunes to commissioned music from Australian composer Luke Howard, it has 17 dancers dressed almost identically in that the men and women all wear gossamer thin skirts, which creates a theme touching on many areas from unity to gender identity, how we perceive gender, how we see ourselves and others, broken down into ensemble dances as well as small groups.

Although the men and women are dressed the same, and in ensemble pieces dance the same steps, the differences are still there. Men just do not have the grace and exquisite elegance of female dancers, while ballerinas don’t have that air of athleticism and power that male dancers naturally display.

The music is insistent with a repeated theme, at times soft and gentle with some haunting solo violin work, beautifully played by Robin Gibb, the leader of the excellent Royal Ballet Sinfonia under conductor Philip Ellis, and at times swelling and soaring, adding variety and depth to the abstract piece.

The highlight of the piece was a sensuous and gentle pas de deux from Tyrone Singleton and Momoko Hirata which garnered generous and well deserved applause.


Karla Doorbar as Humboldt's Hog-Nosed Skunk Flea with her Morris men

The closing piece was Sir David Bintley’s quirky ‘Still Life’ at The Penguin Café which dates back to 1988 when Sir David was resident choreographer at the Royal Ballet. He asked Simon Jeffes about using his music and Jeffes agreed, orchestrated his small ensemble pieces and the ballet was born. Jeffes’ own ensemble, incidentally, was the Penguin Cafe Orchestra and music for the ballet in its ensemble form can be found on the 1981 album, helpfully named Penguin Cafe Orchestra. Jeffes, a classically trained guitarist, composer and arranger, died of a brain tumour in 1997 aged just 48.

Still life can be used several ways, as a noun, such as a painting of a bowl of fruit, or as a statement that there still is life, or even a question asking is there still life? Which applies depends upon the themes of a series of scenes with dancers in animal costumes such as Reina Fuchigami as The Great Auk, Samara Downs as the Utah Longhorn Ram, and adding charming comedy, Tzu-Chao Chou as a sleepy Texas Kangaroo Rat,

Karla Doorbar had to contend with the longest, and perhaps least attractive title, as Humboldt's Hog-Nosed Skunk Flea as she joined five Morris dancers. Humboldt's Hog-Nosed Skunk, if you are interested in one as a pet to impress the neighbours, is native to Patagonia. The flea is optional, but a delight, looking rather like an orange alien in Doorbar’s hands.

Tyrone Singleton impresses as a Southern Cape Zebra – a costume that could give The Lion King a run for its money, and his is a section where the light hearted dance stops. The three species of zebra are classified as endangered, vulnerable and near-threatened, hunted in part for meat, but worst for trophies with skins commanding $1000 - $2000. Sir David makes his point as the black and white clad high fashion ladies dancing with Singleton’s zebra show complete indifference when he is shot.

The theme of destruction continues when Lennert Steegen, Céline Gittens and young Honey O’Sullivan appear as a family of natives displaced from their rain forest home – an area of rain forest larger than the size of England is destroyed each year.

Bringing some hope though is Mathias Dingman as a Brazilian Woolly Monkey who leads the animals, and the humans on to a Noah’s Ark . . . well it did work once before apparently.  

Three very different pieces, different styles showing the versatility of BRB who will show even more in autumn when Black Sabbath – The Ballet hits the stage.

The Triple Bill runs to 10-06-23.

Roger Clarke



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