Birmingham Royal Ballet
Shadows of War: La Fin du jour, Miracle in the Gorbals, Flowers of the Forest
matinee, 9 October 2014
BRB hit London’s Sadler’s Wells this week with Beauty and the Beast and the Shadows of War triple bill which includes the much-anticipated recreation of Miracle in the Gorbals. Jann Parry will be fully reviewing Miracle for us in London but I was lucky to see it last week at a Birmingham matinee – so see these thoughts as a heads up and, ultimately, encouragement to Londoners to go and see an interesting bill.
The BRB publicity says that Robert Helpmann’s Miracle in the Gorbals, with its mix of social realism and religion, was a great leap forward for British ballet. Unfortunately it’s a ballet lost and Gillian Lynne has recreated it in the style she remembers from dancing in it. Of course Helpmann and Lynne are both highly theatrical characters and Miracle is an incredibly dramatic piece with its suicide girl, prostitute, young lovers, fallen Minister of the cloth and Jesus-like character (The Stranger) who performs miracles and is ultimately dispatched by a Razor wielding gang hired by the Minister. This was not the stuff of ballets in 1944 and its end is still very hard hitting. A young Kenneth MacMillan was around at the Royal Ballet while it was being danced and you see the links with what he went on to do for British ballet.
Part of the attraction of Miracle is the ominous and fast paced score of Arthur Bliss and its period designs by Edward Burra, realised in this production by Adam Wiltshire. Set in the Gorbals streets they show a claustrophobic, unremittingly grey, world of tenements with people stacked on people. They support the theatre of the piece well. All that’s missing is dance steps. Of course there are dance steps, but the movement is for the most part unremarkable dance theatre – it’s there to support rather than lead or be an integral part of the story. This is not ballet for those who like the steps to do the talking. But powerful theatre it is, from a time when the Royal Ballet was defining itself and pushing frontiers, which I don’t think Birmingham Royal Ballet is doing much of these days. Do go to see an interesting past and also hope the sense of change encourages David Bintley, as Director, to commission new work by a wide variety of choreographers looking to challenge established ways.
Opening the night was Kenneth MacMillan’s La Fin du jour – a piece set in the 30’s with bright young things having a high old time before war. Nominally there is nothing dark here, underlined by Ian Spurling’s wacky costumes. The choreography is very demanding in places and one of the lead partnerships struggled – possibly because of late cast changes. It’s a pleasant 22 minutes rather than a knockout one, perhaps.
David Bintley’s Flowers of the Forest was the hit of the bill – it might be about a Scotland of yesterday but it couples the happy carefree ways of of youth with the dark of battle and death. It’s a 30 minute roller coaster ride of emotion to tunes you know, and one of Bintley’s best. And here the steps do the talking.