Variations Triple Bill

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


FRESH from their quite stunning performance as Siegfried and Odette/Odile in last week’s Swan Lake, Momoko Hirata and Joseph Caley teamed up again in Theme and Variations, the opening  ballet of BRB’s Triple Bill.

The MoJo pairing is becoming a formidable partnership with a delightful mix of grace, elegance and poise which is easy on both eye and senses; nothing is rushed and everything flows.

They are the lead couple in George Balanchine’s homage to the classical dance style of St Petersburg engendered by Tchaikovsky’s glorious scores; it was, incidentally, the first piece to be performed at the Hippodrome by the newly created Birmingham Royal Ballet 25 years ago.

The 12 variations of Tchaikovsky’s theme, from Orchestral Suite No 3, weaves corps and soloists in classical ballet costume, powder blue tutus and tights, so cleverly that you can almost believe the dancers are telling a story, some fantastic fairytale, even though none is there. It is just a beautiful, classical illusion with quite lovely classical pas de deux from Momoko and Caley.

Peter Farmer’s designs are simple but sumptuous with five candle lit chandeliers above a stage flanked by rich midnight blue drapes with silver flashes.

This is in contrast to former BRB dancer Jean-Marc Puissant’s more stark design for Kin. with its marble walls and slabs and unmatched, unattached doors at the rear of the stage. The full point incidentally is to give a double meaning to the word kin as both standing for family and as a curtailed form of kinetic.

This is a piece choreographed by Alexander Whiteley who joined BRB in 2000 before leaving to join Rambert Dance Company and had its world premiere at the Crescentvariations Theatre last year when BRB opened the International Dance Festival Birmingham.

The music here is from American composer Phil Kline’s The Blue Room and Other Stories which was written originally for New York based avant garde string quartet, ETHEL and sees Elisha Willis in a series of sensuous solos and lovely pas de deux with Caley, again, among 10 dancers in five couples all dressed in black.

As a dance piece it is contemporary and mesmerising to watch and as male and female forms intertwine, creating changing shapes; it manages to be both sensuous and asexual, there is no romantic story, or even a hint of animal passion, just an exploration of the human form and its connection and interaction with people around.

The final piece is Frederick Ashton’s Enigma Variations (My friends Pictured Within) with music, not surprisingly – the clue is in the name - by the Midland’s own Edward Elgar, who is danced in the piece by Jonathan Payn.

The dance is a series of late Victorian snapshots set in the grounds of what we assume is Elgar’s home with his wife and inspiration, danced by Samara Downs, Kit Holder as his friend Hew David Steuart –Powell arriving on his bike and the eccentric Richard Baxter Townsend, danced by Feargus Campbell, who travelled around the district on a trike.

The setting is half in and half out of the house, giving a surreal quality, never quite inside, never quite outside in a garden under a canopy of autumnal leaves beautifully lit by Mark Jonathan.

There are children and odd characters who pass through and perhaps most important A J Jaeger, Nimrod, Elgar’s publisher, danced by Valentin Olovyannikov, who arrives with a telegram to inform Elgar that Hans Richter had agreed to conduct the score which would cement Elgar’s position as a composer of real substance.

The setting is 1898,the year Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma), was composed and the costumes from the design of Julia Trevelyan Oman, are authentic down to the tiniest detail, even down to the broguing on the shoes we are told, as it would be impossible for even the most eagle eyed of the audience to see. It was necessary, so we are told, to enable the dancers to create their characters.

Dress like a late Victorian lady or gentleman and it is much easier to act as one is the theory and it seemed to work as we were treated to a series of vignettes and episodes of what appeared to be a day, and a very full one at that, in the life of Elgar – ending in a flash for a stiff, Victorian family portrait.

As always the Royal Ballet Sinfonia were the hidden stars with Paul Murphy conducting the first and last and Philip Ellis wielding the baton for Kin.

Three short ballets, three very different styles, all to oe very high standard. To 10-10-15

Roger Clarke


At the double


HAVING delighted audiences with their recent classical version of Swan Lake, the Birmingham Royal Ballet are now showcasing their remarkable versatility in this entertaining triple bill.

Their latest celebration of 25 years in Birmingham underlines the value of the company to the city with three contrasting ballets – classical, abstract and typically English – that simply ooze class.

Opening with Theme and Variations, the dancers perform to the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite No3 and Joseph Caley, highly rated for his precocious technical ability, demonstrates wonderful movement in solos and later duets with the equally talented Momoko Hirata, to George Balanchine’s beautiful choreography.

The second piece, Kin., is by Alexander Whitley who returns to his roots, having been given his first job by BRB after graduating from the Royal Ballet School in 2000. Eventually moving on, he kept in touch with Director David Bintley, a champion of young choreographers, and this short, mainly barefoot ballet, has Elisha Willis and Caley in breathtaking movement to Phil Kline’s hypnotic score.

Finally the company perform Enigma Variations, music by Edward Elgar, choreography by Frederick Ashton. Danced on a particularly effective rustic set, the ballet features Jonathan Payn as Elgar and Samara Downs as his wife, and includes many clever, amusing scenes. A memorable conclusion to yet another BRB triumph.

The Royal Ballet Sinfonia is conducted by Paul Murphy and Philip Ellis. To 10.10.15

Paul Marston 


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