REVIEW: Birmingham Royal Ballet – [Un]leashed

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Peter and the Wolf. Photo by Andrew Ross

With the imminent departure of David Bintley from Birmingham Royal Ballet, the [Un]leashed triple bill felt like the mark of an end of an era for the company and for the ballet world. And rather than presenting a magnificent full length classical ballet, David Bintley curated three pieces that, as he writes, “epitomises Birmingham Royal Ballet’s enthusiasm for and commitment to new work.”

The programme opened with Lyric Pieces created by Jessica Lang that used a black concertinaed ribbon like device to frame, stage and interplay with a stellar cast of the company’s best dancers, as they performed 10 movements of contemporary classical ballet that flourished in moments of wonderful duets, solos and group ensembles.

As the consatina ribbon is folded, woven and placed around the dancers, each new shape reveals a new cluster of dancers that morph together with movements that constantly flow between and through the male and female dancers. As the music rose around the midday point, this piece gathered momentum, the dancers became stronger, the shapes more distinct, the feeling more intense, the muted tones more vibrant; but it was the  duet with Celine Gittens and Brandon Lawrence that truly elevated this piece.

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Lyric Pieces: James Barton and Yijing Zhang. Photo by Bill Cooper
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Lyric Pieces: James Barton and Yijing Zhang. Photo by Bill Cooper

 

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Lyric Pieces: Tzu Chao Chou. Photo by Bill Cooper
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Lyric Pieces: Tzu Chao Chou. Photo by Bill Cooper

The second piece Sense of Time by Didy Veldman also used intelligent staging as part of the narrative. This time a wall of old style suitcases features on the stage. The dancers climb over, walk around, and punch through the wall. Although the wall is a strong element, it felt a little confusing and conflicted with the message about the stresses of our modern relationship with time. The old style suitcases and the dancers who end up walking around with their faces glued to their mobiles, felt like two different stories. The choreography was interesting and again contemporary ballet based, and showcased the dancers’ style and technical ability to perform a wide range repertoire.

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Sense of Time: Brandon Lawrence. Photo by Bill Cooper
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Sense of Time: Brandon Lawrence. Photo by Bill Cooper
Birmingham Royal Ballet - Sense of Time. Photo by Bill Cooper
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Sense of Time. Photo by Bill Cooper

And this ability was clearly displayed in the final piece, Ruth Brill’s Peter and The Wolf, which was the surprise of the night. It was totally unexpected and in total contrast to the other two pieces which were quieter, more elegant, more sombre, while Ruth Brill takes us to an edgy, urban, construction site location to re-tell this classic tale.

Ruth has taken this story and kept the essential elements of the animal characters but completely turned it on it’s head, creating a cool, modern and fun piece that is set to the famous original musical score. Interestingly,  Ruth has added narration to the entire piece, which makes the piece both accessible and somewhat juvenile in a sweet and effective way – this will no doubt ensure Peter and The Wolf is enjoyed by families and friends around the country.

Ruth’s quirky approach sees Peter cast as a girl, the bird in a tracksuit, the cat in a hoodie and grandpa in trainers, with the duck wearing headphones and the wolf looking like a sinister man who’d skulk at the end of a run down street. But what Ruth has successfully done, is fill this construction site with technically challenging and precise classical movements that truly suits the company. As we follow the simple story, we fall in love with the characters and in the end the audience was cheering with joy.

Without this piece, BRB’s triple bill may’ve been easily forgotten, but even though Peter and The Wolf is almost the antithesis of your quintessential ballet, it’s originality certainly made it’s mark.

Watch out for our podcast interview with Ruth Brill, who talks about the complex brief that she was given for Peter and The Wolf. 

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Peter and the Wolf: Laura Day as Peter. Photo by Andrew Ross
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Peter and the Wolf: Laura Day as Peter. Photo by Andrew Ross

 

Birmingham Royal Ballet - Peter and the Wolf. Photo by Andrew Ross
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Peter and the Wolf. Photo by Andrew Ross
Birmingham Royal Ballet - Peter and the Wolf. Photo by Andrew Ross
Birmingham Royal Ballet – Peter and the Wolf. Photo by Andrew Ross

Reviewed at Sadler’s Wells on 25 June

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