An interesting opening night from BRB at Sadler’s Wells with 3 plotless works, one English by company director David Bintley, one European by Hans van Manen and a new commission from American choreographer, Jessica Lang, and all to a variety of music from jazz to Grieg piano to Beethoven.
Bintley’s Take Five to Dave Brubeck’s well-known work (and 5 others) is hard not to like and in a lot of respects might normally close out a show with a rousing finish. Little of the choreography is amazing or deep but instead seems a series of light tasters that fit BRB’s youthful company well, particularly Carol Anne Millar’s exuberance in the title piece, Joseph Caley’s nimble footwork in the solo and he and three other boys in the clapping number – Four Square. Amidst all this is a much more thoughtful duet for Elisha Willis and Tyrone Singleton (stepping into a role often associated with the much-loved and now retired Robert Parker) – they dance around one another for ages before coming together in wistful doom. Nicely paced: they work well together in a noble and quiet way. Take Five is modern jazz and dance as accessible toe-tapping enjoyment.
Jessica Lang’s Lyric Pieces is also not going to scare the horses – this is light-as-a-feather work of the utmost good taste – in fact just plain gorgeous. I saw it up in Birmingham on its summer opening run and was pretty smitten; seeing it again only confirms my initial happiness. To a selection of gentle Grieg piano works this is lyrical, flowing dance in a land where only good things happen and everybody really loves everybody else. There are no revelatory steps here, just that they are put together well and with a cinematic eye for stage balance and harmony. It’s also ever-changing with 10 pieces in its short 26 minutes – nothing drags.
The conceit of Lyric Pieces is to use wonderful concertina sets, made of black craft paper, that the dancers playfully move around and make surprise entrances and exits through. By Vancouver based molo design they match Lang’s movement good taste as do the the neutral costumes by Elena Comendador. I’m fast becoming a fan of American (dance) design, which we saw much of when San Francisco Ballet were over – it seems much more theatrical and varied then the abbreviated and “tight trunks for all” that we often see here. Lyric Pieces is a group work but young Brandon Lawrence caught my eye (as he has for a while now) – musical and with wonderful control of his lanky limbs. Way to go yet but one to keep watching. This was Lang’s first piece for a European company and she has marked her card well.
With two light works the heavy piece, Grosse Fuge, came from Hans van Manen to Beethoven. Premiered in 1971 it’s a work that’s worn both well and not so well. Grosse Fuge still gets danced because it’s just so eye-catching – 4 boys stripped to the waist and wearing Japanese trouser-skirts with thick belts and 4 girls in nude corsets, their hair prepared as if for donning a Spanish mantilla. The background ideas based around the obvious attractions of young people for one another, courtship displays and sex, are pretty Neanderthal and ritualised. But danced with commitment it can still thrill. The last time we saw it on the Sadler’s Wells stage was as part of a van Manen celebration given by Dutch National Ballet in 2011 and they really looked the part – strong scary dancers and confrontations from another world. Sadly BRB just can’t compete on this showing with only Iain Mackay having the stage strength and manner needed. Very disappointing.