Festival opener in safe hands

picture of Chi Cao dancin in Les Rendezvous

Les Rendezvous: Chi Cao and fellow dancers. Pictures: Bill Cooper

Three Short Works

Birmingham Royal Ballet

The Crescent Theatre

****

WHAT better way to open Birmingham’s International Dance Festival than with the city’s own internationally acclaimed dancers, Birmingham Royal Ballet, with two world première ballets and a lovely piece of Frederick Ashton whimsy.

The opener was Quatrain, a new work choreographed by Kit Holder, designed by Adam Wiltshire and lit by Johnny Westall-Eyre.picture of Ruth Brill and Jonathan Caguioa dancing in Quatrain

Holder, a BRB first artist, was born in Leamington Spa and started ballet training with Audrey Roper in Sutton Coldfield, and he was given the freedom to pick his own team from design to musicians to dancers for this piece and seems to have chosen well.

The piece is danced to famed Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires  arranged by Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov with four couples and a huge steel irregular quadrilateral frame dominating the rear of an empty stage.

Piazolla was a skilled bandoneon player – it’s a bit like a big accordion - who took tango into a new realms incorporating elements of jazz and classical and is regarded as the world’s leading composer of tango music – and if tango music isn’t designed for dance, then what is?

Ruth Brill and Jonathan Caguioa in Quatrain

The piece, with its sultry undertones, was also marked by some wonderful virtuoso violin playing by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia leader Robert Gibbs, who time and again delivers the goods.

On this showing if times gets hard, he will be more than welcome in any orquesta típica in any Buenos Aires waterfront bar.

The second world première was Kin. by former BRB dancer Alexander Whitley – the full point in the title  gives it a double meaning of both family and an abbreviation for kinetic.

The music here is American composer  Phil Kline’s  The Blue Room and Other Stories written originally for a New York based string quartet.

The simple set and costumes were designed by another ex-BRB dancer, Jean-Marc Puissant, who has designed Take Five and The Seasons for BRB in the past, while BRB regular lighting consultant Peter Tiegan lit the piece.

The ten dancers appear as pairs, or in groups and there is a lovely pas de deux between Jenna Roberts and Joseph Caley.

Both pieces are almost the ballet equivalents of etudes, going through steps and combinations with entwined male and female forms in moves that seem to be sensual but express neither romance nor rejection, fascinating to watch and in their execution.picture of Jenna Roberts in Kin.

If there is a criticism  it is perhaps the lighting. It was moody, dramatic and atmospheric with slices and pencils of light from the sides and light sources creating interesting angles but just a tad more overall brightness might not have gone amiss.

The final piece, Les Rendezvous, had no such problem as we find ourselves in a sunny, summer’s day. This was a trip back to 1933 when Frederick Ashton’s ballet first saw the light of day and BRB’s version opens with a scene that might have been Henley or the banks of the Seine in the 1920s or 30s, with the men in blazers and boaters and the women in summer dresses and tiny hats.

 All that was missing was a punt and a picnic basket - and perhaps a dog called Montmorency.

Jenna Roberts in Kin.

It is light hearted piece based on Daniel Auber’s 1850 opera L’Enfant prodigue,  arranged by Constant Lambert, and was Ashton's first major ballet created for the Vic-Wells company.

This later production was first performed by BRB in 1991 at Sadler's Wells, uses Anthony Ward’s even later 2000 designs and costumes and is lit again by Peter Teigen.

It uses 17 dancers in a promenade and gives us pas de quatre, trois and six as well as two solos from Chi Cao and Nao Sakuma and an Adage des Amoureux from the pair. Originally written to showcase the talents of Alicia Markova and Stanislas Idzikowsky, and then it was Margot Fonteyn and Robert Helpmann. Now it does the same thing admirably for Chi and Nao.

Space limitations means a cut down Sinfonia under conductor Philip Ellis, although you would hardly notice and the pieces hardly demand a full symphony orchestra, Piazzolla wrote for a small tango orchestra of six to eight remember, while Kin. was based on music for a quartet.

International Dance Festival Birmingham is underway and could not have asked for a better opener, solid, entertaining, engaging and made in Birmingham to boot. To 26-04-14.

Roger Clarke

24-04-14

The programme varies slightly on Saturday, April 26, when Les Rendezvous is replaced by another Ashton ballet, Façade, from the same era, 1931 in this case, with music by William Walton.

And on the other foot . . .

****

YOU could hardly ask for a better launch of the 2014 International Dance Festival Birmingham than this trio of fascinating contemporary and traditional works.

If you were looking for a taste of Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, this isn’t it, but the cast from Birmingham Royal Ballet delivered a rather unique performance for a capacity audience on opening night.

The first two of the short ballets seemed to be an exercise in how many different ways the male and female bodies could entwine, though in a more exotic than erotic way. It was spellbinding at times, and a visual delight.

They were premieres of two new commissions from young choreographers – Quatrain, by Kit Holder, inspired by the vibrant tango rhythms of Astor Piazzolla’s The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, and Kin, by former BRB dancer Alexander Whitley, to music by young American composer Phil Kline.

Costumes were dark and fairly simple, as were the sets, but the dancing was exciting and imaginative.

The mood changed in the third and final piece, Les Rendezevous, by Frederick Ashton, first performed in 1933 , in which the cast wore bright, colourful costumes – men in straw boaters, striped jackets and bow ties and the ballerinas in white dresses highlighted with red, green and yellow circles.

BRB superstars Nao Sakuma and Chi Cao led the cast stylishly in a fitting end to a hugely entertaining evening.

For the final performance on Saturday night (April 26), the company stage Kin, Quatrain and Facade. 

Paul Marston

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