Lost Souls

The ball scene in the Long Gallery of Aston Hall. Pictures: Paul Telfer

Lost Souls

Aston Hall

Birmingham Royal Ballet

TWO households, both alike in dignity, brought 13th century Verona to life at Aston Hall with Lost Souls, a spectacular version of Romeo and Juliet from Birmingham Royal Ballet.

With music from composer Andrew Kristy – and Prokofiev – 54 youngsters from around Birmingham danced a 45-minute version of both Shakespeare’s story and Kenneth MacMillan’s choreography of the Prokofiev ballet, first on the grassy oval in the courtyard and then around the rooms of the magnificent 17th century, Grade 1 listed Jacobean hall.

The idea came through the BRB ambassadors who work with BRB’s department of learning, with the intention of making ballet both more accessible and able to be seen in a different light – the ambassadors being a group of young people who have come through past BRB educational schemes who are now passing on what they have learned.

It has been a long-time dream of artistic director Jennifer MacNamara, a teacher and choreographer at Elmhurst school of dance, to put Romeo and Juliet and Aston Hall together and, in the year commemorating the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, the dream has been realised with the help of Birmingham Museums Trust.

She said the original aim was to have children with no dance training or experience “but that was impossible as the ones who had dance experience were the ones who wanted to take part.”

But even so, more than half were new to dance and it is a tribute to the a lady at the masked ballhard work of both the youngsters and BRB staff that meeting only once a week since March they could manage a magical interpretation, all in mediaeval costume.

After an introduction of sonnets from Stephen Clarkson and Alex Grazier the performance opened with a market scene in glorious June sunshine on the green outside the main entrance, all to original music by Andrew Kristy – with separate scenes around the green as well as co-ordinated dances, which is no mean feat with a cast of 54.

A lady in her finery masked at the ball

Happy scenes don’t last long though in this tale of star crossed lovers and with hints of West Side Story in the music the Montagues and Capulets faced up to each other with first a rumble on the grass which quickly became a mass sword fight in the courtyard.

Full marks to the little girl who found herself without a sword by the way, carrying on with an imaginary blade as if that is how it was always meant to be – a touch of real professionalism there.

The fight moved inside to the great hall where BRB soloists Rory Mackay and Tom Rogers had rapiers drawn in anger as Romeo and Tybalt for a spectacular sword fight mere feet away from the audience – giving it some real wellie and a close up look a ballet in the flesh.

Then it was off up the stairs following the action around the rooms and chambers of the splendid hall with Andrew Kirsty leading, like a modern day Pied Piper, with his laptop sound desk, mixing as he went, and speakers on his back. The sound was excellent incidentally.

We came across Maddy Abraham with a solo dance in Juliet’s bedroom, a play fight by Clarkson and Grazier again, and most spectacular of all, the ball, in Aston Hall’s Long Gallery.

Here the audience found themselves in the middle of the 136-foot-long gallery with the cast, masked and unsmiling, divided in two, advancing on either side of them – an allusion of the two warring families - with Kristy abandoning the laptop for an electric harpsichord and Prokofiev’s rather foreboding Dance of the Knights from the ballet score

John Cook’s friar was a hint of things to come as we went through to see the secret potion administered and Sophie Smith as Juliet falling ill under its effects,with her nurse Shakira Hamilton. With the appearance of Naomi Campan as the Spirit the inevitable end has arrived with Katy Wiltshire and Stephen Clarkson again, dancing a poignant pas de deux back in the Great Hall before vanishing into the blinding light through the doors of the hereafter to bring the curtain down on what had been a most engaging and well-drilled ballet. All credit to cast and choreographer.

As a performance Lost Souls has set out what it intended to do quite magnificently, engaging more than 50 children, most of whom had no experience of dance, in both Shakespeare and dance, telling a story through ballet quite beautifully, full of palpable enthusiasm, in the glorious surroundings of a hall built a mere two years after Shakespeare's death..

The Lost Souls experience was just that, a wonderful experience and a delight to watch.

Roger Clarke



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