Born in the USA

In the Upper Room

Momoko Hirata In the Upper Room with Artists of Birmingham Royal Ballet. Picture: Roy Smiljanic

Moving Stateside

Birmingham Royal Ballet


THREE very different pieces and very different styles in this triple bill of American ballets.

It opened with Serenade with music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by George Balanchine, followed by Jessica Lang’s Lyric Pieces with music by Grieg and finally In The Upper Room, an all-American affair with music by Philip Glass and choreography by Indiana born Twyla Tharp.

Serenade was Balanchine’s first ballet choreographed in America and it is perhaps telling that its first performance, in 1934, was by students of the School of American Ballet for it seems very much like the balletic equivalent of an etude.

An initial corps of 17 look quite beautiful in the loose, gossamer light, powder blue Karinska costumes and produce some wonderful patterns around which principal characters enter and leave.iain Mackay and Jenna Roberts

At times it is quite delightful to watch, graceful and elegant with Elisha Willis, Momoko Hirata, Céline Gittens, César Morales and Tyrone Singleton, taking the principal roles.

But although it perhaps brings dance rather than worlds to the music there is a feeling it is a ballet which puts shape and form above romance and heart to produce a pleasant rather than memorable ballet.

Lyric Pieces is a collection of 10 short dances which was commissioned by BRB and International Dance Festival, Birmingham and had its world premiere by BRB at The Crescent, Birmingham, three years ago.

With the Royal Ballet Sinfonia excused after the opening ballet it was down to pianist Jonathan Higgins to play this selection of Grieg’s 66 short pieces of the same name.

Jenna Roberts and Iain Mackay dsnce Phantom from Lyric Pieces

The fascinating set is created by molo designs who created a collection of shapes made of black Kraft paper which range in height from a foot to six foot, which open and stretch, or close to a solid block like an endless accordion with the six-footers created almost a castle keep for the opening and closing or a wall across the rear of the vast Hippodrome stage.

It is fascinating to watch the ever changing shapes and set although that innovation and ever evolving shape comes at a price in that it can be distracting -and can be heard opening and closing - so it is easy to find yourself watching the scenery rather than the dancers.

YvetteKnight, YijingZhang, JennaRoberts, MaureyaLebowitz where the four principal women with IainMackay, JamesBarton, MathiasDingman, BrandonLawrence the principal men.

Serenade was one story at one pace while this was 10 chapters with a little bit of humour, different tempos and different folk tunes to produce a cheerful, light hearted collection of dances.

The final piece, In The Upper Room, from 1986 is a different animal altogether, first performed in 1999 by BRB at Saddlers Wells.

Glass’s music is incessant and for the cast of MikiMizutani, ElishaWillis, ChiCao, MomokoHirata, TyroneSingleton, CélineGittens, AngelaPaul, DeliaMathews, YasuoAtsuji, SamaraDowns, JamieBond, IainMackay and FeargusCampbell this is not so much a dance as a marathon.

The pace is relentless with no dancer allowed a chance to catch much in the way of breath in the wings before they are back into the action – this is all about energy and power, like a frantic aerobics class battling against a time limit.

It is danced in a haze of glycol fog and cones of harsh white light opening with just two dancers in the Norma Kamali designed costumes of black and white stripes, gradually red is added until we finally have the women all in red satin and the men in red trousers or tops as the black and white opening ends in a sea of red.

This is more contemporary dance rather than the lyrical beauty of classical ballet creating a breathless finale for both artists and audience. To 21-02-15

Roger Clarke



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