BRB produce the power and the glory

Victoria Marr as Fortuna with the artists from the Birmingham Royal Ballet at the finale of Carmina burana. Pictures (unless stated): Bill Cooper.

Passion and Ecstasy

Birmingham Royal Ballet

Birmingham Hippodrome


PASSION and ecstasy and two very different ballets.Allegri diversi was BRB Director David Bintley’s  contribution to the Saddler’s Wells Royal Ballet’s 40th anniversary season in 1987.

It is set to Rossini’s music which, although never written for dance, has a lyrical quality which leaves it open to interpretation by Bintley’s inventive mind.

The result is a ballet with no plot, story or characters rather like the ballet equivalent of a musical etude.

Nao Sakuma and Joseph Caley are the principals and their closing duet has a beauty all of its own but the three women of the piece, Laura Purkiss, Samara Downs, Lei Zhao and three men Jonathan Caguioa, Steven Monteith, Christopher Rodgers-Wilson, are not there as support to make up numbers.

They show some wonderful technical ability and manage to weave some gloriously complex and intricate patterns and interactions which are worth a round of applause on their own.

With no plot this is a chance for dancers to show off and why not. The parts were written for specific dancers almost a quarter of a century ago but that did not stop the eight dancers from making the ballet their own and showing the depth of talent and technique BRB can sport. Clarinetist Ian Scott also deserved his bow for some fine solo playing.

Nao Sakuma in Allegri diversi. Photo: Andrew Ross

Carmina burana is a much darker affair set to Carl Orff’s emotive cantata based on 254 mediaeval poems from mainly the 11th and 12th centuries found in a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria in 1803. The poems were mostly written in mediaeval Latin, a few in old German and some in Provencal.

The collection was known as known as Carmina Burana, latin for Songs from Beuern, which is the shortened name for Benediktbeuern, the Abbey where the poems were discovered.

Orff set 24 of the poems to music and called his composition by the same name with the premier in Frankfurt in 1937 and it became a big hit in Nazi Germany.

The opening, O fortuna, is particularly dramatic, so much so it even appears on the album 99 Must Have Halloween Classics.

Victoria Marr as Fortuna herself, dressed in a short black number, appears in a single spot  to set the scene before a group of Seminarians appear and three wander off the paths of righteousness into the murkier highways and byways of the real world.

Women in spring gives you a hint of what can happen in an ungodly world with the dance of the pregnant women which has its comic moments before Alexander Campbell becomes the first of the trainee priests to fall off the wagon when he finds himself rejected by the object of his desires in a club and never seems to get over it, poor soul.

Jamie Bond finds himself in what appears to be a burlesque-style tavern surrounded by a collection of Mr Creosotes where he is never quite sure whether he is trying to save Nao Sakuma, who is served up as a roast swan, or eat her. She appears rather like the girl who pops out of cakes in Hollywood’s idea of a Mafia boss’s birthday party.

The five gluttons in fat suits manage some remarkably complex moves considering they struggle to get within six feet of each other while the swan and Jamie weave in and out amongst them

There is no doubt in young Jamie’s mind what happens next when he falls in with a group of the local thugs though. He gets done over good and proper. That’s what happens when you break your journey to salvation.

Iain Mackay falls the furthest of all in the Court of Love. He falls hook line and clothes, ending up in just his Y-fronts, for our Fortuna who we discover is not so much the girl next door as the local neighbourhood hooker and most of her mates appear to be on the game as well.

The ballet, according to Bintley, who first performed it in 1995,  is a modern Everyman story about the struggle of faith and what can happen if you turn you back on spirituality for rather more earthly pursuits.

The ballet has a huge cast which at times look like an Andy Warhol pop art crowd scene but despite the numbers it never looks crowded and the synchronisation was spot on.

Each of the male leads gave us their side of their fall from grace with some great dancing while Victoria Marr as Fortuna, the tart with a heart, more or less, was just incredible.

Victoria Marr as the seductive Fortuna

Adding to the effect is the design by Philip Prowse which gave us 12 giant crosses, which reappear tinged with what appears to be blood, a giant sun, a moon, an enormous heart and a sheet which filled the stage as a billowing cloud.

Behind it all was the pulsating music from the Royal Ballet Simfonia under conductor Paul Murphy and Birmingham’s own experts in early choral work, Ex Cathedra with excellent soloists soprano  Grace Davidson, tenor Jeremy Budd and baritone Owen Webb.

Carmina Burana is more than a ballet; it is an experience. To 25-06-11

Roger Clarke


Double bill of delight . . .


WOW! What an incredible contrast brilliant choreographer David Bintley has created in this double bill, and rousing cheers from the first night audience underlined their appreciation of a breathtaking event.

It opens with a delightful classical ballet, Allegri Diversi, starring Nao Sakuma and Joseph Caley, in which the dancers perform a range of beautiful movements to Rossini's music, played by the Royal Ballet Sinfonia, conductor Paul Murphy.

Sakuma and Caley are joined by six other superb dancers, and at the close clarinetist Ian Scott is invited on stage to receive well deserved acknowledgement for his exceptional solo contribution.

After the interval there is a stunning transformation with Carmina Burana, danced to the music of Carl Orff. A stranger to the ballet might have felt he had stumbled on a convention of Vicars and Tarts as the Goddess Fortuna (Victoria Marr) tangles with three Seminarians lured from their faith to pursue a more sensual approach to life.

Dog collars are torn off in the frenzy and at The Court of Love Iain Mackay strips to his underpants as he dances with the Goddess. Ballerinas even dance as pregnant women at one stage, and some of the costumes border on the erotic.

And let's not forget the magnificent singing of Ex Cathedra, particularly Grace Davidson (soprano), Jeremy Budd (tenor) and Owen Webb (baritone)

Passion & Ecstasy ends on Saturday night 25.06.11

Paul Marston 


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