Birmingham Royal Ballet
Les Rendezvous, Kin., Elite Syncopations
High Wycombe, Swan Theatre
20 June 2014
It’s the end of the Birmingham Royal Ballet season and I snatched a last opportunity to catch up with one of their two mid-scale tours – the one which came nearest to London at the comfortable Wycombe Swan. It was good to see Peter Wright out from town to cast an eye over his old company and in animated conversation with David Bintley (the current Director), who himself is also starting to look an elder statesman of British ballet – as well he might having first professionally choreographed 36 years ago. Bintley creates the vast majority of brand new work at Birmingham, but this bill featured a recent commission of a rising star (Alexander Whitley), sandwiched between much-loved works by Ashton and MacMillan. Your classic triple bill, really.
Les Rendezvous is 21 mins of delightful froth that harks back to 1933 and the earliest days of the Royal Ballet when Frederick Ashton was just getting his feet under the choreographic table. It wears its cleverness easily under a jaunty Auber score arranged by Constant Lambert. I enjoy it for reminding us how airborne ballet can be and for its nifty, speedy steps, no more so than in the pas de trois (with Arancha Baselga, James Barton and Tzu-Chao Chou)- it must be a killer to dance but they correctly make it effortless. I also like Rendezvous for being old fashioned with its set piece arrangements of dancers in rigid but lovely formation – worth remembering that Busby Berkeley was working on Broadway and in Hollywood at this time. I don’t have a problem with celebrating an old ballet in old designs but some like to tamper, and the relatively new Anthony Ward designs (from 2000) are very uneven. The polka dot dresses for the girls work well, the overly fitted striped blazers of the boys look a little less impressive and the backdrop looks a really low-rent disaster. The original 1933 designs were by William Chappell, (think Les Patineurs, made only 4 years later) and Sarasota Ballet have looked to recreate them for their production (see below) which we recently reviewed in Sarasota. By the look of it the British companies would do well to borrow from Sarasota for future runs.
I saw Alexander Whitley’s Kin. in Birmingham during its recent premiere run and really liked its contemporary freshness and beauty. Jenna Roberts and Joseph Caley (both Principals) created the lead roles but in Wycombe we saw the very different and taller couple of Delia Mathews and William Bracewell. Both First Artists, they are often tipped for great things. At the core of Kin. is a magical duet which starts tentatively with him shadowing and surrounding her without touching, but as it builds they increasingly loop around one another, draw ever closer, until she drapes over him like a gentle waterfall, and like water she flows away from his embrace. Its stylishly informal but what really takes it to another level is the way that Whitley uses the floor – it’s just part of continuous movement space and as the dancers descend, revolve and roll it never feels ungainly or forced – it’s all part of a harmonious whole. I find great bliss and contentment here as it spools ever on – almost like a Möbius strip, changing and yet the same. I also like the steps for the 8 other dancers (equal men and women), where he fills the stage with an interesting mix of movement, sometimes all together, sometimes constant turning and entwining, sometimes tango, sometimes statuesque. But Kin. starts with a long solo for the lead girl and Mathews, on this showing, was not so suited to it as the abandoned and waif-like Jenna Roberts. A keeper of a work, the only thing I find mildly annoying with Kin. is the fussy full stop in its title.
A perennial, send-them-home-happy, favourite, Elite Syncopations, is an important reminder that Kenneth MacMillan is not always about troubled relationships and big-time pain. Nao Sakuma (excellent) led out a youthful cast and I particularly liked Yvette Knight and James Barton’s Alaskan Rag. While the height difference between them is not so large (she should tower over him) their comic timing was wonderful and it was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in Elite. I suspect catching it at the end of the run also meant that extra spit and polish had gradually been accumulated. Bravo. The Golden Hours of Arancha Baselga and Feargus Campbell also impressed with its sweetness, and Samara Downs delivered the headily-flowered goods in Calliope Rag. I was suitably sent home happy.