Tasty treat with a dark centre

Chi Cao in Les Redezvous

Flying high: Chi Cao in Frederick Ashton's Les Rendezvous. Picture: Bill Cooper

Darkness and Light

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


BIRMINGHAM Royal Ballet returned home to the Hippodrome with a summer programme and, as if by magic, the clouds duly rolled away and the sun was shining again.

Coincidence but a bright and cheery opening with the men in colourful scene from Dante Sonatablazers and boaters and the women in glorious summer dresses. We could have been on the banks of the Seine or the Thames a century or more ago and you almot expected three men in a boat to sail by.

Les Rendezvous is as if summertime has been turned into dance. It was choreographed by Frederick Ashton for the Vic-Wells company in 1933 to the ballet music from French composer Daniel Auber’s opera L’enfant prodigue.

Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet dancing  in the light and dark of Dante Sonata. Picture:  Bill Cooper


Then it was Alicia Markova and Stanislas Idzikowskyin the lead roles and on BRB’s opening night it was principals Chi Cao and Nao Sakuma who danced the cheerful  solos and pas de deux amid a succession of light hearted dances including an excellent trio from Arancha Baselga, James Barton and Tzu-Chao Chou nd a pas de quatre from Laura Day, Karla Doorbar, Reina Fuchigami and Miki Mizutani.

Chi has that ability to hang in the air longer than the laws of physics would surely allow while Nao's balance en pointe, on one leg, would make a gyroscope look wobbly.

The light hearted opener was followed by a much darker piece of history, Frederick Ashton’s ballet set to Franze Liszt’s music , Dante Sonata, which in turn was inspired by Dante’s Divine Comedy.

When it was first performed, early in 1940, Britain was in the dark days for World War Two and this was Ashton’s vision of conflict, good against evil,  light against darkness, allies against axis.

It was first revived in 2000 by BRB but was only reconstructed thanks to the incredible memory of Jean Bedells who made her debut with Vic Wells ballet in 1937. She also helped reconstruct Dame Ninette de Valois’s Job for BRB in 1993. 

Born in 1924, the daughter of Phyllis Bedells, who was regarded as the first British Prima Ballerina, she sadly Céline Gittensdied in April this year in April,

Mark Jonathan’s lighting is dark and threatening as we see the children of darkness, led by Samara Downs and Tyrone Singleton, take on the children of light, steered by Jenna Roberts, Elisha Willis and Iain Mackay, making his first appearance since his horrific ankle ligament injury while dancing the Prince in The Nutcracker in November last year.

Céline Gittens as the Debutante in the Tango Pasodoble in Façade. Picture: Roy Smiljanic


It was a role he described as not as physically demanding as many in his repertoire as a principal, but it did serve its purpose, giving him minutes under his belt and building match fitness, to place his recovery in footballing terms. It was still a performance of some quality whichraised his light brigade above the murkier dark side. A mention here for pianist Jonathan Higgins who mastered a Liszt sonata said to be one of the most challenging in the piano repertoire. He well deserved the curtain call at the end.

The final piece, again by Ashton was Façade set to music taken from William Walton’s Façade – an entertainment from 1923 in which he  accompanied poems by Edith Sitwell.

After the depths of Dante this is a much lighter piece, full of comedy, with Laura Day, Reina Fuchigami and Mathias Dingman as Scottish dancers, Jade Heusen as a milkmaid wooed by three yodelling mountaineers, Yasuo Atsuji, Jared Hinton,and Luke Schaufuss, a wild polka from Elisha Willis and then in a whirl of chiffon and white djayed delight, a foxtrot from Ruth Brill, Alys Shee, Valentin Olovyannikov and Jonathan Payn which brought out as many laughs as you can manage in a well performed dance.

A waltz from Ana Albutashvili, Karla Doorbar, Elisha WillisMiki Mizutani and Mariko Sasaki  carried on the ballroom theme with a waltz while Kit Holder and Lewis Turner took us back to the blazers and boaters and the days of Vaudeville with Popular Song with finally Rory Mackay as A Dago and Céline Gittens as a Debutante providing an ending to send everyone home with a smile on their face.

Stylised, ham and completely over the top, their Tango Pasodoble was a gloriously funny end to a splendid evening.


A one-woman Polka danced with attitude by Elisha Willis in Ashton's Façade. Picture: Roy Smiljanic


The Dante Sonata was closer to classical ballet but the lighter hearted Rendezvous opening with groups of friends meeting in a park on a bright summer’s day and the final Façade, with their pas de deux, trois, quatre and up, demanded perfect synchronisation otherwise it would have been beyond a mess, it would be heading into train crash territory.

But for the whole evening, in every piece, when dancers needed to dance as one they managed it perfectly which is no mean feat, with every leap, landing, step and gesture in perfect unison.

A mention to for the Royal Ballet Sinfonia under Philip Ellis who played to the usual high standard we have come to expect. Darkness and Light runs to 07-06-14 with La Fille mal gardée running from 11-06-14 to 15-06-14.

Roger Clarke



Iain Mackay talks about his battle to return from injury


Dancing around the shadows


WHEN you see a production of this sublime quality it’s obvious why the Birmingham Royal Ballet is such a precious jewel in the city’s crown.

Three contrasting short ballets by famous choreographer Frederick Ashton enable the company to display a whole range of skills in humour and drama – a visual delight.

Opening with Les Rendezvous, the dancers in brightly coloured costumes criss-cross the stage at speed to the music of Daniel Auber in a series of solos, pas de quatre and ensemble dances, as friends and acquaintances meet joyfully in a park setting.

It is a piece that also allows the brilliant principals Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao to perform at a high level.

There is a complete change of mood in the second ballet, Dante Sonata, which has fragile innocence confronting desperate evil – the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, performed to the music of Franz Liszt, and this piece sees a welcome return from long injury by Iain Mackay.

The third ballet, Façade (music by William Walton), is a joyous finale, packed with humour as it opens with dancers in kilts for Scottish Rhapsody, then Yodelling has milkmaid Jade Heusen showing unusual skill with her hands as well as her pins, while mountaineers Yasuo Atsuji, Jared Hinton and Luke Schaufuss contributing a bit of mischief.

Elisha Willis sparkles in Polka and there is a memorable Tango Pasodoble featuring Rory Mackay as A Dago and Celine Gittens, A Debutante. How the first night audience loved this couple.

A quality performance, too, by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia conducted by Philip Ellis.

To  07.06.14 

Paul Marston


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