Birmingham Royal Ballet – Three Short Works (with 2 premieres) – Birmingham

Robert Parker in Take Five. © Bill Cooper. (Click image for larger version)
Robert Parker in Take Five. © Bill Cooper. (Click image for larger version)

Birmingham Royal Ballet
Three Short Works: 9-5, Lyric Pieces, Take Five

Birmingham, Crescent Theatre
Matinee, 4 May 2012

Good to see BRB presenting 2 premieres as part of International Dance Festival Birmingham – now about half-way through and featuring a wide mix stretching from dance on film, through hip-hop (the Sadler’s Wells Breakin’ mini-fest travels north), to more conventional fare like Guillem and Maliphant, the shocking/spitting of Dave St-Pierre Company and the odd family workshop (spitting discouraged).

BRB were actually in the 340-seat Crescent Theatre, a bit of a hike from the centre of town but comfortable and with good sight lines. With tickets at a bargain £18, I hope they use the space again.

The companys own Kit Holder, a First Artist, opened proceedings with 9-5, based on a much admired earlier 4-minute work, Printer Jam, and expanded out to 21 minutes to give a story of love and abuse in the modern office. What I liked, apart from Holder looking to tell a story in such short order, was the musical choice, mixing drum and base, atmospheric sounds and some classical violin from William Byrd. It wasn’t everybody’s favourite musical selection with much muttering in the subsequent interval; on the other hand many enjoyed the choreography/drama, which sadly I did not.

The lead dancers, Joseph Caley (as the victimised employee), Laura-Jane Gibson (love interest) and Samara Downs (man-eating/chasing boss), gave their all, but ultimately I didn’t know if this was amusing, a horror story (or both even). Worse I didn’t spot much choreography so much as sliding around on office chairs or scene-setting with the trip to work and much walking through a peripatetic door frame. That said, Holder showed a good grasp of conventional ballet pdd (to the Byrd) as the lovers have some lunchtime respite from the nightmare, and also in the last 5 minutes the stage seemed alive with dance action before the final sacking. A mixed bag, but ultimately good to see a rare opportunity in BRB seized and something different attempted. That I applaud.

Next up was another rare non-Bintley commission (David Bintley is the choreographing Director of BRB) and thank heavens too – Lyric Pieces by Jessica Lang was gorgeous. To a selection of Grieg’s piano pieces, I don’t think there was a new or astounding step in this and yet it’s one of the best things I’ve seen this year. My scrawled notes burble as I rarely do: “Lyrical”, “quality, quality”, “polished”, “deeply satisfying”, “very classy”, “pure joy”… What Lang has is a terrific eye for line and the harmonious sculpture of bodies – nothing shouted. The costumes (Elena Comendador) in light tones of grey, taupe and nude were sheer and moved well – more good taste. The set (molo design) was composed of black card accordions that concertinaed to nothing or in some cases could cover half the width of the stage and from behind which dancers would emerge and dissolve back. Smaller concertina stools looked a little more contrived but I won’t quibble much – this was a stunning, gentle piece and I hope we see more of Lang in the UK (she works out of New York). A huge and refreshing change from the aggressive nature of much new work these days.

{You can get some idea of Lyric Pieces in these rehearsal pictures on the molo design website: molo products in Birmingham Royal Ballet production}

Robert Parker in Take Five. © Bill Cooper. (Click image for larger version)
Robert Parker in Take Five. © Bill Cooper. (Click image for larger version)

Last up was David Bintley’s 5-year-old Take Five, a known goody to send people home happy. It starts strong with Dave Brubeck’s all-time great track (played live and well) and a pony-tailed Carol-Anne Millar flirting with 4 male friends – full of darting jumps, quick skips and happiness. There are some good soloist numbers but the heart of the ballet is Two Step, a more coolly cerebral duet for Elisha Willis and Robert Parker and a melancholic will-they-won’t-they look. It was impeccably danced and brings out the best in Willis particularly. Take Five has a rousing and exhilarating finale with the entire cast recalling 50’s dance halls, rammed home by Jean-Marc Puissant’s abbreviated period skirts with white petticoats. The last time I saw this piece I immediately bought some Brubeck CDs and playing them again as I write brings back the dance. A good afternoon.


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