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Birmingham Ballet

Our second review of Birmingham Royal Ballet’s latest shows at Birmingham Hippodrome. This time it’s Terry Wills in the tutu.

An admission. As a lover of the theatre in general and musical/dancing productions in particular, any review as to the technical expertise required in classical ballet should be left to ‘experts’ who are schooled to appreciate this uniquely demanding art form.

Yes I’ve seen and enjoyed what are rightly recognised as ‘true’ classical ballets – think of Swan Lake and the Nutcracker and images of the beautiful music immediately springs to mind. These definitely are dance experiences to be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone, anywhere, simply because you can sit back and let the magical timeless music and dance spectacle ‘wash’ over your head.

But when attending the Birmingham Royal Ballets production ‘Pomp and Circumstances’ at the Hippodrome I honestly didn’t know what to expect.

The title itself bought to mind ‘The Last Night of the Proms’ - clashing cymbals coupled with enthusiastic patriots waving flags and rounding off the evening with a few patriotic lusty renditions of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’.

Not so this three-part production. The first, ‘Serenade’ takes place without any backdrop. Just effective moonlit blue lighting, which lends itself to the spectacle of 16 dancers in octagonal lines remaining motionless until David Bintley’s unique choreography is bought into focus via the music of Tchaikovsky. Very simple but effective.

Act two; ‘Enigma Variations’ tells the story in dance behind the immortal music of Edward Elgar in Edwardian England. Not easy to follow for a layman but the list of eccentric players more than make up for that.

An amiable-reedy voiced eccentric who rides around on a tricycle and a friend who has no problem in dancing despite clutching a ‘large’ ear trumpet!

The set appeared true to the times with the opening night audience appreciating and responding to the humorous, intricate, inventive, choreography.

However the most eagerly awaited section of the production for me came n the final fascinating 43 minutes. Entitled ‘Still Life at the Penguin Café’ it portrayed wonderful imaginative dancers suitably adorned in a variety of animal costumes.

The theme unashamedly focusing on the attitude displayed down the years by mankind on the fate of the animal kingdom.

The programme aptly and succinctly sums it up as ‘a cautionary tale; but rather than lecturing the audience it presents us with a light-hearted series of vignettes, each of which just happens to be centred around an endangered species.

(Aptly summed up by the fate of The Great Auk already virtually wiped out by mankind’s reckless persecution. Tragically it finally became extinct in 1844 when three Icelandic fishermen discovered the last two living Great Auks. They were a breeding pair with a single egg. Two of the fishermen killed the two adult birds with clubs and the third smashed the egg with his boot.

The audience are held spellbound by the splendid dancers dressed in imaginative costumes, particularly a Zebra, a Woolly Monkey, a Hog- nosed skunk (!) a Texan Kangaroo Rat and a Utah Longhorn Ram.

The closing scene is moving in it’s own distinctive way. The stage darkens and rain of monsoon proportions portrays the fate of the animals. Was there to be any saving grace? Thankfully there is Noah’s Ark waiting to greet and take on board any survivors.

This scene bought to the fore the humour and technical dancing skills of The Birmingham Royal Ballet who are rightly recognised as being one of the Worlds leading dance Companies.

To a novice such as myself every dancer, especially the principles, confirmed that to reach such a high level of excellence requires years of dedicated practice, learning, and discipline.

And there can be no question that Birmingham and the Midlands can be proud to have such a wonderful company on our doorstep.

See Richard Lutz’s review here


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