The relative merits of dance

Energy into dance in the first part of Birmingham Royal Ballet's triple bill

E-MC2, Tombeaux, Still Life at the Penguin Café

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


ANYONE who has not been visiting relatives on Planet Zog has heard of Albert Einstein  and the Theory of Relativity.

Some even know the formulae, e=mc2, while some even know what it stands for, energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, while there are even a small number who not only know but actually understand what it means.

 So for Birmingham Royal Ballet director David Bintley to attempt to turn this widely known yet little understood building block of physics into dance was, to say the least, a challenge.

That he has succeeded was perhaps confirmed by the piece, premiered in 2009, winning The South Bank Show Dance Award in 2010.

Bintley has broken the formulae down into its component parts, three movements, energy, mass and celeritas, the Latin for swiftness along with a shorter, powerful fourth movement, The Manhattan Project, which changes both the pace and direction of the piece.

Just as Einstein saw the links between apparently diverse elements of the physical universe this piece brings together all the elements of ballet, music, dance, design and lighting.

With light such an important part of the equation Peter Mumford’s design deserves a curtain call of its own with its slanted shafts, pencil spots and lines of light.

With commissioned music from Australian Matthew Hindson, Energy is loud with crashing brass with 20 dancers creating rapid patterns in a blur of movement dominated by Elisha Willis and Joseph Caley in a largely black and white world with only hints of colour.

Mass is more lyrical, a blue hue, with duets and trios almost like elements combining while celeritas2 is bright, full of rapid movement led by Maureya Lebowitz and Mathias Dingman.

Between M and C2 came Samara Downs in a white kimono in a simple, piece,The Manhatten Project, a gentle dance which is finally disturbed by a loud crash.

The project itself ran in the Second World War where it eventually produced the first atomic bomb - and the first practical illustration of Einstein’s theory of the link between mass and energy.

A mass of just 0.6 grams, two hundredths of an ounce, of Uranium 235, was turned into energy - heat and light – in the Little Boy bomb 80,000 people, a third of the population of Hiroshima, died instantly as 69 per cent of the city’s buildings were destroyed. The world was a changed place and for  a few moments, dance hardly mattered.

Samara Downs with her fan and kimono, in the poignant and moving short sequence, The Manhattan Project.

Tombeaux is more of a reflective piece and much more classical in form, not surprising as it is in part a tribute to one of Bintley’s heroes Frederic Ashton and was also a lament from a disillusioned Bintley, the then resident choreographer for The Royal Ballet in what was his last piece for them before leaving 1993.

The music is William Walton’s Variations on a Theme by Paul Hindemith, and is a tribute from once composer to another.

Nao Sakuma, always a delight to watch, and César Morales dance the leads in what is very much a traditional ballet in the Ashton style, romantic and lyrical, with some well and easily executed inverted lifts.

The design, incidentally, was by Jasper Conran which gave is inky black tutus with white underlayers.

Although Bintley was despairing at the direction British ballet seemed to be taking in what are some sombre scenes there is hope and quite an uplifting finale which, in the real world, was perhaps prophetic as Bintly first freelanced for a while before returning to England and taking over from the retiring Peter Wright as director of BRB in 1995 to reset the course of at least one ballet company to one more of his own vision.

The final piece has no obvious hidden meanings, no references to complex formulae or laments for lost causes, Still Life at The Penguin Café is pure, unadulterated fun with some delightful individual performances with the likes of Chi Cao as the remarkably lithe Southern Cape Zebra, Laura Day as the diminutive orange clad Humboldt’s Hog-nosed Skunk Flea and, a particular favourite, Joseph Caley as the Texan Kangaroo Rat, all ho down with a touch of Deliverance.

Ruth Brill brings a touch cartoon silliness to the Great Auk while Angela Paul brings a touch of MGM musical glamour  along with a white tie and tails Iain Mackay in a fine Utah Longhorn Ram duet.

Céline Gittins, Tyrone Singleton and Eva Davies provide a little poignancy as a family of humans, just a small part of the animal kingdom while Jamie Bond is a rather swish showman as a Brazilian Woolly Monkey, all set to music by Simon Jeffes, who led his own Penguin Café Orchestra.

The dances are based on David Day’s The Doomsday Book of Animals and way back in 1988 when the work first premiered, wildlife, or at least its preservation, was perhaps seen as not really an, if it was noticed at all, by most people, so the fact every animal featured is endangered,  while the Great Auk, the original penguin, had already been hunted to extinction, the last pair being killed in 1844, probably did not register too highly on the conscience scale.

It is only later that you find that fun had a point and its price.

As usual the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Paul Murphy added to the performance setting the mood and pace for each peice.

Three very different ballets from the same choreographer which shows not only his range but also how fortunate Birmingham is to have its own internationally acclaimed ballet company, and not many cities throughout the world can say that. To 05-10-13.

Roger Clarke

Next week BRB are staging Sleeping Beauty. Oct 8-12. 


And from the back of the cafe

THE brilliant choreographer David Bintley has created another masterpiece in this spectacular triple bill that gives the audience a subtle reminder of the need to take care of our planet.

Opening with E=MC2, danced to a specially commissioned score by the Australian composer Matthew Hindson, the corps de ballet perform quite brilliantly in the tale which explores Einstein's special theory of relativity.

With grace, skill and passion they suggest how energy develops from mass, as, dressed in navy blue costumes, they bond together then split apart at bewildering speed to spine-tingling music played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conducted by Paul Murphy.

And there is a thought-provoking finale as a dancer in white kimono, holding a red fan, performs emotionally against a blood red background in a poignant reminder of the horror of Hiroshima.

The second ballet, Tombeaux, with music by William Wilson, is Bintley's lament on the death of his mentor, Sir Frederick Ashton, featuring a wonderful performance by Nao Sakuma and Cesar Morales.

Cheers on opening night greeted several aspects of the third and final piece, 'Still Life' at the Penguin Cafe, in which endangered animals shelter from the storm, mingling for drinks and a chat in the Penguin Cafe....special masks creating a ballroom dancing ram and even a flea performing beautifully with Morris dancers, providing a powerful hint at man's dangerous effect on the world in which we live. Music is by Simon Jeffes.

This memorable ballet with a message runs to 05-10-13 

Paul Marston 


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