Last week we attended Birmingham Royal Ballet‘s week-long season at Sadler’s Wells. They brought to London two different autumn bills: Kenneth MacMillan’s Romeo and Juliet and Pointes of View, with works by MacMillan, Balanchine and Twyla Tharp. Each Bag Lady caught up with one program.
Linda on Romeo & Juliet:
Having seen Romeo and Juliet not long ago (The Royal Ballet performed it last spring) we were curious to see a staging designed for a touring company, as we knew this production used different sets and costumes from the famous ones by Nicholas Georgiadis, with a softer colour palette that evokes a Renaissance Verona. We also wanted to observe what the dancers make of the ballet’s dramatic and technical opportunities in a chamber-style production.
MacMillan supervised this staging in 1992 and commissioned new sets (less monumental though still atmospheric) from Paul Andrews. This provides for a more intimate experience of the ballet: the stage is closer to the audience and the ensemble scenes are less crowded. The cast was a perfect fit to the production, the full company committed and expressive in every role: from the star-crossed lovers to the secondary parts. I hadn’t yet had the pleasure of seeing first soloist Jenna Roberts on a leading role and to me it seemed as if she was born to dance Juliet. Light in step, bright attack and capable of a wide dramatic range, fully conveying to the audience a woman whose choices determine her fate.
Iain Mackay looked every inch the brooding Romeo. If technically I’ve seen sharper executions, his elegance matched Roberts’s Juliet very well and he was extremely moving in the tomb scene as he desperately clung to Juliet’s lifeless body. Robert Parker was a devilish Tybalt and Alexander Campbell a cheeky Mercutio; his sword fight with Parker so grueling and realistic that the townsfolk did not have to work very hard at acting shocked. Marion Tait was a stately Lady Capulet. Praise also for the Corps de Ballet who were as pristine in group dances as in acting their character parts.
The only odd notes were the bizarre costumes worn by the Mandolin dancers, which looked more DIY-Halloween than something Veronese entertainers might have worn. They should be rethought. Apart from this minor gripe BRB should be proud of a production that looks distinctively theirs.
Emilia on Pointes of View (Concerto, Slaughter on Tenth Avenue, In the Upper Room):
BRB closed their season at Sadler’s Wells with a well-designed, versatile mixed bill. Concerto showcases the Company in different MacMillan territory and is a perfect contrast to Romeo and Juliet: plotless, monochromatic and ideal for their fast and sharp Corps de Ballet. I was particularly impressed with Carol-Anne Millar who nailed those tricky turns in the third movement, injecting her solo with a good dose of ballerina authority.
Slaughter on Tenth Avenue is a complete change of gear, from ballet to dance theatre. Created in the Thirties as part of Rodgers and Hart’s musical On Your Toes, it follows the adventures of a young American hoofer who joins a famous Russian ballet company. Before the curtains open a pompous Russian ballet star strolls along the proscenium. He talks to the audience and instructs a gunman to shoot the young hoofer (his rival) after he finishes his solo. There are subtle nods to Romantic classic Giselle as the young American (superbly acted and danced by Alexander Campbell) soon discovers the only way to stay alive is to carry on dancing. On top of that he has just seen his sweetheart (a vixen-like Ambra Vallo) get shot by gansters and is consumed with guilt and regret. All these balletic references made me curious about the complete On Your Toes, which sounds like “Balanchine meets Guys and Dolls” and was conceived as a parody to the famous tours of Ballets Russes.
Slaughter was followed by Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room. Set to Philip Glass’s rising score, some consider the piece to have “a touch of the sublime”, while its atmosphere can be migraine-inducing for others. Light, music and effects all combine to make the work pulsate. I left the theatre thinking of it as a sensorial experience and was delighted to see a bit of martial arts kata in Tharp’s interesting mix of styles. The cast was a dream team of BRB’s best. Robert Parker, Joseph Caley, Alexander Campbell, Elisha Willis and Carol-Anne Millar were the “dancers-in-trainers”, moving as if their lives also depended on dancing. Just as mesmerising were their counterparts in-ballet-shoes Chi Cao, Matthew Lawrence and blonde spintop Christopher Rodgers-Wilson, with their en pointe ladies Ambra Vallo, Gaylene Cummerfield and Natasha Oughtred. Together they rocked the room. Another season, another fab myth-busting triple bill in BRB’s ballet bag.